Many parts of our human anatomy originated back in the Early Palaeozoic (540-350 million years ago). This was when jaws, teeth, paired limbs, ossified brain-cases, intromittent genital organs, chambered hearts and paired lungs all appeared in early fishes. For the past 30 years I have been collecting from the Gogo sites in northern Western Australia, whose perfectly preserved 3-D fish fossils have yielded many significant discoveries, including mineralised soft tissues and the origins of complex sexual reproduction in vertebrates.
Current research projects include investigating the evolution of the vertebrate brain across the the fish to tetrapod transition (DP 200103398); describing the highly derived fish Elpistostege (with Prof R. Cloutier, University of Quebec at Rimouski); describing new Late Devonian Gogo fishes and reconstructing their soft tissue anatomy (with Prof. K. Trinajstic, Curtin Univ.), Early Devonian fishes from Taemas, NSW (with Prof Gavin Young, ANU), and investigating early tetrapod trackways from Ireland and Australia (with Prof. Per Ahlberg, Uppsala University). I completed my 4th field season in Antarctica over 2018/19 with the USAP program working with Prof Neil Shubin from the University of Chicago and we will be researching the fish fossils we collected.
I am the author or editor of some 30 adult and children's books, including technical books, general non-fiction and fiction. My most recent books Hung Like an Argentine Duck (Harper Collins 2011, Dawn of the Deed, U.Chicago Press, PB 2014) gives an account of our Gogo discoveries of the world's oldest embryos and early sexual dimorphism in vertebrates, and explores the relevance of fossils to understanding sex in a broad evolutionary context. Life Frozen in Time- Prehistoric Life in Antarctica (Stilwell & Long, 2011) gives a complete overview of the evolution of life in Antarctica (CSIRO Publishing).
Leading research directions in early vertebrate evolution, mentoring postgraduate students, and fostering international collaborations in palaeontological research. Previous President of the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology (2014-16) and President of the Royal Society of South Australia (2016-2019), I also served as Research Section Head of Ecology and Evolution within our college between 2017-2020.My roles with external organisation include currently serving as the Past President of the Royal Society of South Australia and as Chair of the Research Subcommittee of the Interagency Reference Group for the Naracoorte Caves World Heritage Fossil Site.
I give lectures on life invading the land for first year biology, on fish (ichthyology) for second year biology, and contribute to lectures and a prac on fish evolution for the Vertebrate Palaeontology major course.
Best student paper award 2016 - FEB 2016
2016-2019: President, the Royal Society of South Australia
2016-2018: Past President, The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology
2014-2019: Chair, Interagency Community Reference Group, Naracoorte Caves World Heritage Site;
2014-2016: President, The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology
2012-2014: Vice President, The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology;
2014-2016: Vice President, The Royal Society of South Australia;
2013-2015: Organising Committee for Early Vertebrates/Lower Vertebrates Meeting, Australia 2015;
2013-2014: Scientist in the Schools participant with Blackwood High School;
2014 -2018: Monthly columnist writing "The Fossil Files" for Australasian Science magazine
Currently serving as The Past President of the Royal Society of South Australia (President 2016-2019), and am a Past President of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (2014-2016). I am a regular contributer of popular science articles for The Conversation website with over 2 million readers, and an author of popular science books for both adults and children.
I am part of the Flinders Palaeontology Group, one of the best places in Australia to study the deep history of life. This consists of the labs of the following academic staff and research fellows (and their research groups) addressing questions across all vertebrates - from fish to mammals, and the Cambrian to the Anthropocene.
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