A 350-million-year-old marine 
ecosystem in Scotland 
(Painting by Robert Nicholls)

Vertebrates before and after the end-Devonian extinction (from Sallan and Galimberti, Science, 2015)

348 million year old fish Aetheretmon, showing the ancestral double tail alongside a modern pufferfish with (lower) caudal fin alone.
(Painting by John Megahan)


Lauren Sallan, PhD

Martin Meyerson Assistant Professor in Interdisciplinary Studies

Earth and Environmental Science

     University of Pennsylvania    
TED Fellow


CV  Google Citations

Watch my TED Talk on Winning through Mass Extinction!

Watch our TED-Ed Lesson on Why Fishes Are Fish-Shaped!

Research Summary
We use 'Big Data' approaches, evolutionary trees and detailed study of fossil fishes to determine how global events, environmental change and ecological interactions shaped long-term change (macroevolution) and established modern biodiversity.

Our analyses use deep-time databases for early vertebrates (half of vertebrate history), fishes (half of vertebrate diversity), marine ecosystems and mass extinctions.

Research Interests
Macroevolution, Macroecology,
Early Vertebrates, Ichthyology 
Mass Extinction, Phylogenetics
Biomechanics, Evo-Devo

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

October, 2018 Our new paper on vertebrate habitat origins was published in Science. We found that all early fishes, jawed and jawless, diversified in shallow coastal waters and only later shifted to reefs. This "Invasion of the Ocean" was dependent on pre-existing traits just like the Invasion of land. We received a Perspective by Catalina Pimiento and press coverage in the New York Times, New Scientist, BBC, CBC, Gizmodo, The Conversation, Cosmos Magazine, and many other outlets!

October, 2018 Lauren, John, Jack, and Ananth all traveled to the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology annual meeting in Albuquerque, NM. Lauren presented in the "Big Questions, Big Data" symposium. John presented on a new ray-finned fish from Red Hill, Pennsylvania. Jack presented on a long-rostrumed Carboniferous fish and the structure of elongated snouts in ray-finned fishes.

September, 2018 Jack Stack has published his first paper! His survey of the Devonian fishes of Michigan, which involved over a hundred new specimens collected by Jack himself, is open access in PeerJ. Congratulations, Jack!

August, 2018 Lauren gave an interview on mass extinctions for Futureproof with Jonathan McCrea on Ireland's NewsTalk FM.

July, 2018 Exciting results from our collaboration with the Rabosky Lab at Michigan and the Alfaro Lab at UCLA have been published in Nature! Using the largest fish phylogeny and the largest fossil calibration set to date, we show that polar fishes have the highest speciation rates, while tropical fishes merely persist (write up in Penn News). John has flown to the University of Florida to start the Analytical Paleobiology Workshop.

June, 2018 Lauren was awarded the 2018 Distinguished Service Award for Early Achievement by the Medical & Biological Sciences Alumni Association of the University of Chicago. The ceremony was held during Alumni Weekend. This award is given to the top early career graduate from the last 15 years.

A 310-million-year-old freshwater ecosystem in Illinois
(Painting by John Megahan)

A phylogeny of living ray-finned fishes
(From Sallan, Biological Reviews, 2014)

A later shell-crushing ray-fin, 
Styracopterus, 340 million years ago
(Painting by John Megahan)