Dr Erich Fitzgerald at a field site.
Source: Museum Victoria
Senior Curator, Vertebrate Palaeontology
I am a palaeontologist who investigates the evolutionary history of aquatic vertebrates, especially marine mammals such as whales, seals and sea cows. This research involves exploring the fossil record as well as investigating aquatic adaptations of living species. I seek to document the diversity, evolutionary relationships and palaeobiology of marine vertebrates through time and uncover the drivers of their evolution and extinction.
Prior to joining Museum Victoria’s ongoing staff as Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology, I was a Smithsonian Institution Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Museum of Natural History (Washington, DC: 2008–2009), and was the Harold Mitchell Fellow at Museum Victoria (2009–2012).
Ph.D. (Earth Sciences): Monash University, 2008
B.Sc. (Earth Sciences and Zoology): University of Melbourne, 2003
My major ongoing program of research involves the documentation and analysis of the little-studied fossil record of marine mammals in Australia. Further afield, I collaborate with colleagues studying fossil marine mammals from México, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the U.S.A. Studying the evolution of marine mammal diversity across geologic timescales permits us to track the impact of profound environmental changes on ocean ecosystems. At another scale, we can explore how and when the remarkable biological adaptations of today’s whales, dolphins and seals evolved. I am interested in the questions opened up by looking at extinct and living marine mammals as a continuum: to understand the past we must grasp the present. Consequently, I am keenly interested in the taxonomy, anatomy and natural history of living species of marine mammals.
At its core, my research and that of my students integrates study of biodiversity and evolutionary relationships (taxonomy and phylogeny), anatomy (especially osteology, or the study of bones), palaeobiology (functional morphology and biomechanics), palaeoecology, and large-scale patterns and processes in the history of life (macroevolution).
In addition to my primary interest in living and extinct marine mammals, I am involved in the field collection and study of other fossil vertebrates in Victoria, including sharks, aquatic reptiles, seabirds, dinosaurs and land mammals.
My team includes Honours and PhD students actively involved in pioneering projects that explore fundamental questions of marine vertebrate evolutionary biology and vertebrate palaeontology in general. Most student projects make extensive use of Museum Victoria’s vertebrate palaeontology and zoology collections and include significant onsite training and experience in working with museum specimens as well as opportunities for fieldwork. I am interested in co-supervising innovative Honours, Masters or PhD projects that tackle ‘big’ questions about the evolution of vertebrates, their anatomy (especially the skeleton!), and the ecosystems that support them.
Darren Hastie (PhD candidate)
David Hocking (PhD candidate)
Matthew McCurry (PhD candidate)
Angela Olah (Honours student)
Travis Park (PhD candidate)