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215 898-5650
Office Location: 
215C Leidy Labs
CV (file): 

Lauren Sallan

Martin Meyerson Assistant Professor in Interdisciplinary Studies
Secondary Appt.: Department of Biology
2019 TED Senior Fellow


  • Ph.D. (2012) Integrative Biology, University of Chicago
  • S.M.  (2009)  Organismal Biology, University of Chicago
  • M.S.  (2007)  Biological Sciences, Florida Atlantic University
  • B.S.   (2003)  Biology, cum laude, Florida Atlantic University

Lauren Sallan is a ‘next generation’ paleobiologist applying cutting-edge developments in ‘Big Data’ analytics and experimental biomechanics to reveal how evolution happens at the largest scales (macroevolution). Lauren uses the vast fossil record of fishes as a deep time database, mining to find out why some species persist and diversify while others die off. She has used these methods to discover the lost, largest, 'sixth' mass extinction of vertebrates, the end-Devonian Hangenberg event (359 million years ago), reveal how fish heads changed first during their rise to dominance, and show how invasions by new predators can shift prey diversity at global scales. Lauren’s research has been published in high-profile venues such as Science, PNAS, and Current Biology. It has also been featured in The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, Forbes, the New Scientist, the Discovery Channel, the textbook Vertebrate Paleontology by Michael Benton and the popular science book The Ends of the World by Peter Brannen (Harper Collins). Lauren was given the 2015 Stensio Award for top early career paleoichthyologist, selected for the 2018 Distinguished Service Award for Early Achievement by the University of Chicago, and chosen as a TED Fellow in 2017 and a TED Senior Fellow in 2019 (1 of 10 worldwide) . Her TED Talk on how species survive mass extinctions was featured on the TED website and has received over 1 million views.

Research Interests

The Sallan Lab is broadly interested in how global events, environmental change and ecological interactions affect long-term evolution (macroevolution) in early vertebrates (half of vertebrate history), ray-finned fishes (half of vertebrate diversity) and marine ecosystems through time. We test macroevolutionary hypotheses using methods ranging from "big data" quantitative approaches and mathematical modeling to biomechanics experiments to phylogenetic systematics and morphological description.

Research Areas: Paleobiology/Paleontology, Macroevolution, Macroecology, Early Vertebrates, Ichthyology, Mass Extinction, Phylogenetics, Functional Morphology/Biomechanics, Evo-Devo

Selected Publications

^Postdoc, *Graduate Student, #Undergraduate Student

Sallan, L., Friedman, M., Sansom, R. S., Bird, C. M.# and I. J. Sansom (2018). The nearshore cradle of early vertebrate diversification. Science 362: 460-464.

Stack, J.# and L. Sallan (2018) A examination of the Devonian fishes of Michigan. PeerJ 6:e5636

Rabosky, D., Chang, J., Title, P., Cowman, P., Sallan, L., Friedman, M., Kaschner, K., Garilao, C., Near, T., Coll, M. and M. Alfaro. (2018) An inverse latitudinal diversity gradient in speciation rate for marine fishes. Nature 559: 392-395.

Sallan, L., Giles, S., Sansom, R., Clarke, J.^, Johanson, Z., Sansom, I. and P. Janvier. (2017) The 'Tully Monster' is not a vertebrate: convergence, characters and taphonomy in Paleozoic problematic animals. Palaeontology 60: 149-157.

Sallan, L. (2016) Fish 'tails' result from outgrowth and reduction of two separate ancestral tails. Current Biology 26: R1224-R1225.

Sallan, L. and A. K. Galimberti# (2015) Body-size reduction in vertebrates following the end-Devonian mass extinction. Science 350: 812-815.

Sallan, L. C. (2014) Major Issues in the Origins of Ray-finned Fish (Actinopterygii) Biodiversity. Biological Reviews 89: 950-971.

Sallan, L. C. and M. I. Coates (2014) The Long-rostrumed Elasmobranch Bandringa Zangerl, 1969 and Taphonomy within a Carboniferous Shark Nursery. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 34, 22-33.

Sallan, L. C. (2012) Tetrapod-like Axial Regionalization in an Early Ray-finned Fish. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 279: 3264-3271.

Friedman, M. and L. C. Sallan (2012) Five Hundred Million Years of Extinction and Recovery: a Phanerozoic Survey of Large-Scale Diversity Patterns in Fishes. Palaeontology. 55: 707-742.

Sallan, L. C. and M. Friedman (2012) Heads or Tails: Staged Diversification in Vertebrate Evolutionary Radiations. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 279: 2025-2032.

Sallan, L. C., Kammer, T. W., Ausich, W. I. and L. A. Cook (2011) Persistent Predator-Prey Dynamics Revealed by Mass Extinction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108: 8335-8338.

Sallan, L. C. and M. I. Coates (2010) End-Devonian Extinction and a Bottleneck in the Early Evolution of Modern Jawed Vertebrates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107: 10131-10135.

Courses Taught

GEOL 205/405: Paleontology

GEOL 479: Macroevolution

GEOL 516: Paleoecology

Department of Earth and Environmental Science / University of Pennsylvania, 251 Hayden Hall, 240 South 33rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6316