Lauren Sallan, PhD

Paleobiology, Macroevolution, and the Origins of Vertebrate and Marine Life

Unit Head & Assistant Professor

Macroevolution Unit

Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST)

TED Senior Fellow

Research Summary

My research integrates discoveries and data from multiple fields to determine the factors that have shaped marine biodiversity on scales outside human observation (macroevolution).

My lab at OIST, the Macroevolution Unit, seeks to determine the origins of modern biodiversity and ecosystems (marine and freshwater), and understand how species respond to big challenges - living and environmental, gradual and sudden, local and global.

This work involves analyses of immense 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 ecosystems in order to tease apart the origins of the life as we know it.

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 310 Million Year Old river delta by John Meghan

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