Lauren Sallan, PhD

Macroevolution, Paleobiology, and the Origins of Fishes and Marine Ecosystems

Martin Meyerson Assistant Professor in Interdisciplinary Studies

Earth and Environmental Science (Primary)

Biology (Secondary)

University of Pennsylvania


TED Senior Fellow

Research Summary

My lab investigates how environmental change, global events, and ecological interactions shaped biodiversity on scales outside human observation (macroevolution/macroecology).

We seek to determine the origins of modern biodiversity and ecosystems (marine and freshwater), and understand how species respond to big challenges - both living and environmental, both gradual and sudden.

This work involves 'Big Data' analyses of immense global databases for fishes (half of vertebrate diversity) and early vertebrates (half of vertebrate history), as well as detailed, species-level surveys of living and fossil diversity.

Painting of a modern teleost alongside a 340 million year old relative (Aetheretmon), by John Megahan.

Research Interests




Early Vertebrates


Mass Extinction

Global Change




A 340 Million Year Old "Reef" by Bob Nicholls

Watch my TED Talk on the evolution of life and the future of paleontology

Watch my TED Talk on what animals survive a mass extinction and thrive afterwards

Listen to FutureProof about our research in mass extinction.

Listen to Palaeocast about our research on early vertebrate macroevolution and paleobiology.

Watch our TED-Ed Video about why fishes are fish shaped.

Speaking at TED2017