The Systematics Association President’s Lecture 2020

X-ray imaging meets palaeontology: fresh insights into the rise of ray-finned fishes

Dr Sam Giles

Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow and Senior Research Fellow. School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham

Animals with backbones (vertebrates) have an evolutionary history of nearly half a billion years, with fossils instrumental in understanding how the group became so hugely successful.

Jawed bony fishes account for 99% of living vertebrate species. Over half of these are ray-finned fishes: staples of the aquarium and fishmonger, encompassing everything from goldfish to seahorses to cod. However, the double barriers of geological time and fossil preservation has led to a poor understanding of the early history and evolution of ray-fins.

Dr Giles’ research uses x-ray tomography (CT scanning) to ‘virtually’ dissect living and fossil fishes and unlock their internal anatomy. Comparing key structures between living and extinct ray-fins allows for major events to be put into context, shedding new light on innovations and evolutionary relationships. These findings also provide insight into the explosive diversification of ray-finned fishes some 350 million years ago.

Wednesday 25th November 2020