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

April, 2018 Our TED-ED Lesson on "The "Incredible Evolution of Fish Bodies" was released! Jisoo won the 2018 Rose Undergraduate Research Award for her senior thesis (1 of only 10 across the entire University)! Aja won the Teaching Assistant of the Year award from Penn EES! Erynn won a Paul Bond Scholarship from the Delaware Valley Paleontological Society! John was accepted to the Analytical Paleobiology workshop (one of just 15)! Congratulations, everyone! 

November, 2017 The TED talk on surviving mass extinctions and "winning at evolution" was featured at TED.com!  Jack Stack was featured by Penn News!

October, 2017 Erynn, John and Jack are all going to GSA 2017 in Seattle. Jack is speaking about fish ecology during the Late Paleozoic Ice Age. Next, John is presenting on Diversity imbalance and "living fossils" across the tree of life. Finally, Erynn is showing her results on the Defensive benefits of shell shapes, using 3D-printing.

October, 2017 Lauren was officially appointed as the Martin Meyerson Assistant Professor in Interdisciplinary Studies. Aja was named a Woman of Distinction at the 19th Annual Philadelphia AMP Research Symposium. Congratulations, Aja!

August, 2017: Erynn's research on the defensive purpose of seashell shapes, using 3D-printed ceramic shells, was featured in the OMNIA! 

June, 2017: Our research on mass extinction and success in fishes is featured in the new popular science book "The Ends of the World" by Peter Brannen (Harper Collins), summarized in Forbes (by TED Fellow Karim Abouelnaga), and profiled in the Spring/Summer issue of OMNIA, the magazine of Penn Arts and Sciences.

May, 2017: Aja won a Paul Bond Scholarship from the Delaware Valley Paleontological Society, Travis graduated with his Masters of Science in Applied Geoscience, and Lauren won the Audience Choice Award for the Penn SAS 60-Second-Slam. Congratulations!

April 24, 2017: Lauren gave a TED talk at TED 2017 in Vancouver as part of the 2017 class of TED Fellows. The talk was animated by Dennis Moore for the TED Blog and Lauren was interviewed by the lead singer of the band OK Go on Facebook Live (starting at 4:40)!

March 17, 2017: Erynn Johnson has been awarded an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship for her awesome work on the role of crushing predation in macroevolution. Congratulations, Erynn!

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)