Professor John Long

Strategic Professorship

College of Science and Engineering

+61 8 82012267
place Biological Sciences (326)
GPO Box 2100, Adelaide 5001, South Australia

Many parts of our human anatomy had their origins 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 describing new Late Devonian Gogo fishes and reconstructing their soft tissue anatomy (with Assoc. Prof. K. Trinajstic, Curtin Univ.), Early Devonian fishes from Taemas, NSW (with Prof Gavin Young, ANU), and investigating the role of trace elements in mass extinction events (with Prof. Ross Large, U.Tas). I completed my 3rd field season in Antarctica over 2016/17 and will be heading down again over 2018/19 with the USAP program working with Prof Neil Shubin from the University of Chicago.

Our latest ARC Discovery Grants will enable us to determine the timing and origins of two key sensory systems in early fossil vertebrates: electroreception and nocturnality, as well as the origin of tetrapods in Gondwana, working with colleagues from the US, UK, China, Sweden and Spain. I am the author of some 26 adult and children's books, including non-fiction and fiction. My most recent book 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.

  • Getty Museum Leadership course, 2010.
  • Ph.D, Monash University, 1984.
  • B.Sc Hons, Monash University 1981.  
Honours, awards and grants
  • 2016 Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research (as part of the TEPO team with Prof Ross Large)
  • 2016 DP160102460 Resolving evolutionary problems at the fish-tetrapod boundary ($491K, with M.Lee and others)
  • 2014 Verco Medal for scientific research, The Royal Socierty of South Australia
  • 2014 DP140104161 Origins of electroreception and nocturnality in early vertebrates ($347K with K.Trinajstic and others)
  • 2011 Research Medal of The Royal Society of Victoria
  • 2011 Finalist, The Eureka Prize for Scientific Research
  • 2009 Biomedical Sciences Annual Lecture, University of Queensland
  • 2009 Top Ten Species award by the International Institute for Species Exploration (for Materpiscis attenboroughi)
  • 2009 ARC DP1092870 On the Origins of Gnathostomes ($370K, with G. Young and others)
  • 2008 The Australasian Science Prize for peer-reviewed research
  • 2007 ARC DP0772138 Old Brains New Data ($528K, with G.Young et al)
  • 2007 Short-listed, Victorian Premiers Literary Awards, Swimming in Stone (Fremantle Press, 2006)
  • 2006 Australian Publishers Association Award for Best Primary Reference Book, The Big Picture Book (Allen & Unwin 2005)
  • 2006 The Wilderness Society Award for Environmental Literature ( non-fiction), The Big Picture Book
  • 2006 Short-listed, The Western Australian Premiers Literary Award, Best Children's Book for The Big Picture Book
  • 2006 Short-listed, The Children's Book Council of Australia, Eve Pownell Award, for The Big Picture Book
  • 2005 ARC DP0558499 Australia's Exceptional Devonian Fish Fossils and Tetrapod Origins ($280K, With G.Young)
  • 2003 The Riversleigh Society Medal
  • 2003 Serventy Memorial Lecture, Field Naturalist Society of Western Australia
  • 2003 The Whitely Award, Best Popular Zoological Book, Prehistoric Mammals of Australia and New Guinea (UNSW Press, 2002)
  • 2001 The Eureka Prize for Public Promotion of Science
Key responsibilities

Leading research directions in early vertebrate evolution, mentoring postgraduate students, and fostering international collaborations in palaeontological research. Within the University I serve on the Faculty Establishmernt Committee, the DVC-R's Research Committee and on the newly formed SA Museum Committee. My roles with external organisation include currently serving as the President of the Royal Society of South Australia, as Past President of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology and as Chair of the Interagency Reference Group for the Naracoorte Caves World Heritage Fossil Site.

Currently serving as Research Section Head for the Ecology and Evolution research group at Flinders University.

Research expertise
Research interests

I research the early evolution of vertebrates (fishes and early tetrapods) with a particular focus on Devonian age material (359-409 million years ago) as Australia has some exceptional sites of this age with superb 3-D preservation of bones and, in some cases, mineralised soft tissues. My focus has been largely on the exquisitely preserved fishes from the Gogo Formation of Western Australia, studying placoderms, early ray-finned fishes, onychodontids,lungfishes and Gogonasus, a stem tetrapod.

Our recent finds include the origins of copulation in vertebrates (Microbrachius dicki), the placoderm Materpiscis attenboroughi, the oldest known vertebrate mother with an embryo preserved plus the first sharks, coelacanth and acanthodian fishes from the Gogo Formation (see Long & Trinajstic 2010 for a review of the fauna). I have also worked on early fish faunas from material collected in Antarctica, South-East Asia, China, South Africa, Morocco and Iran, as well as published a scattering of other papers on dinosaurs, ancient marine reptiles and prehistoric mammals.

I'm looking for students interested in tackling problems at the very base of the vertebrate evolutionary tree, like the origin and evoloution of limbs, teeth, jaws, breathing, braincases, electroreception, nocturnality, and complex reproductive strategies - to determine how the higher vertebrate body plan and physiologically advanced behaviours first evolved.

To do this we study remarkably well-preserved fossils of fishes from the Palaeozoic Era (mainly Devonian period, 408-359 million years ago). Our PhD programs typically involve active field work at fossil sites throughout Australia (eg Gogo, Kimberley, central Queensland, the mountains of Victoria, the south coast NSW), and use of cutting edge techniques (micro-CT scanning, synchrotron imaging, isotopic analysis).

Teaching interests

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.

Supervisory interests
Early fish and tetrapod evolution
Evolution of the early vertebrate body plan
Palaeontology, advanced imaging techniques
Vertebrate palaeontology
Higher degree by research supervision
Principal supervisor: zoology, fish evolution, teleosts, phylogeny, Cenozoic (1), zoology, palaeoecology, electroreception, evolution, phylogeny, fishes, Devonian (1)
Associate supervisor: zoology, marsupials, teeth, evolutionary developmental biology, phylogeny, ecology (1)
Higher degree by research student achievements
Benedict King

Best student paper award 2016 - FEB 2016

Expert for media contact
Available for contact via
+61 8 82012267
Or contact the media team
+61 8 82012092
0427 398 713
Media expertise
  • Antarctica
  • Fossils
  • Palaeontology
  • palaeontology
Further information

Currently serving as The President of the Royal Society of South Australia, Chair of the Interagency refernce Group for the Naracoorte Wolrd Heritage Fossil Caves, 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 1.75 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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