2010 Colbert Prize Recipient

Taketeru Tomita

Taketeru Tomita

When I was in junior high school, I picked up one, tiny, white shark, fossil tooth from Japanese Pliocene deposits — that was my first contact with the world of "shark paleontology." Since that moment, 16 years have passed, and I am still exploring the world of fossil sharks. In 2002, I entered the University of Tokyo as an undergraduate student and started research on fossil sharks. At that time, I was interested in habitat reconstruction of Cenozoic sharks based on sedimentological and geochemical methods. In 2006, I entered graduate school at the University of Tokyo and decided to continue shark research. At the University of Tokyo, I am being supervised by Drs. Tatsuo Oji and Kazushige Tanabe. In 2009, I attended the University of California Davis for half a year as a visiting PhD student, and there I worked with Dr. Ryosuke Motani. I am now interested in clarifying the early ecological evolution of fossil sharks based on functional morphology.

Though my research topics or methods have changed throughout my research, my main interest has not changed: clarifying the ecology of fossil sharks. The shark is a very attractive animal for understanding the early ecological evolution of vertebrates, considering that it is one of the basal but still-living vertebrates. In my PhD research, I am focusing on the morphological convergences among extant and extinct sharks. These morphological convergences provide me a first step for understanding ecological aspects of fossil sharks. In order to understand the meaning of morphological convergences, information from living sharks is crucially important. So, I spend several months a year at Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium to observe and experiment with living sharks.

Evolution is a very complex phenomenon. Though functional morphology is a strong method for clarifying this phenomenon, it may not be enough. Thus, I have started geochemical and molecular biological studies on extant and extinct sharks. These studies will provide different axes for understanding their ecological evolution. I hope my research will provide attractive information on the early ecological evolutions of all vertebrates.

Photo courtesy of Taketeru Tomita.