The modern day is often caricatured by vertebrate biologists and paleontologists as the ‘Age of Mammals,’ remote from the ‘Age of Fishes’ of the Devonian Period more than 350 million years ago. This reinforces a common perception that living fishes, which collectively constitute half of all living backboned animals, have exceptionally deep evolutionary roots. However, a substantial fraction of diversity in this other half of the vertebrate tree of life was generated on a timescale comparable to that in birds and mammals. Drawing on the clues locked in genomes, skeletons, and rocks, I will explore the origins of diversity in fishes at phylogenetic scales ranging from individual specialized lineages to hyperdiverse radiations containing several thousand species. I will show how quantitative approaches to evolutionary questions in ‘deep time’ highlight potential effects of major events in earth history on the assembly of the modern fauna, and illustrate how cutting-edge techniques are providing us with an unprecedented view of diversity deep within the geological record.
Host: Professor Lauren Sallan