About the Society Awards Past Award Winners 2014 Romer Simpson Lifetime Achievement Award
I started my university studies at the University Freiburg in southern Germany in 1956. After the bachelor I continued my graduate studies at the University of Tübingen. During that time I mapped Carboniferous rocks in the Saar region for my Master’s degree in geology, a prerequisite for paleontology at the time. In 1962 I changed advisors and continued under Walter Gross, a well-known paleoichthyologist, who had just moved to Tübingen from Berlin after the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961. My Ph.D. thesis dealt with the transition of rhombic to round scales in Mesozoic actinopterygians including morphological and histological changes. After the Ph.D. in 1965, I moved to Stockholm, Sweden, to do a postdoc in the center of paleoichthyology at the time (with E. A:son Stensiö, E. Jarvik, T. Ørvig in the Natural History Museum). That move changed my research focus from Mesozoic to Paleozoic fishes because this was the interest of the Swedish colleagues. During my first year in Stockholm, I worked with the paleohistologist Tor Ørvig on the histology of teeth with folded dentine at the transition from piscine to tetrapod sarcopterygians and proposing a monophyletic origin of tetrapods. I spent the second year studying a Late Devonian long snouted lungfish (Griphognathus
Thereafter I was employed at the University Göttingen with the implication to study Devonian vertebrates mainly. From 1970 to1971 I spent one year in the USA to study fish collections at different museums, I spent most of that year, 7 months, at the Field Museum working with Bob Denison and Rainer Zangerl, and 3 months at the American Museum with G. Nelson, D. Rosen and B. Schaeffer. I did my Habilitation (qualification for associate professor) in 1972 in Göttingen. I continued to publish on Devonian fishes (actinopterygians, dipnoans, rhipidistians, acanthodians and arthrodires), occasionally on Mesozoic tetrapods (nothosaurs) and on histology of scales and vertebrae. In that time I took over the editorship of the Handbook of Paleoichthyology that up to now has produced nine volumes. In 1975 I was the leader of an expedition to the Canadian Arctic to collect Devonian fishes on Ellesmere Island, Axel Heiberg and Prince of Wales Island. In 1978 I was collecting fishes of Oxfordian age in the Domeyko Range, Atacama desert, northern Chile.
In fall of 1978 I moved to Lawrence, Kansas, accepting a position in the Department of Systematics & Ecology and as a curator in the Museum of Natural History. From 1988-1990 I was chairman of the department. I broadened my research interest and moved even in to studies of recent fishes together with my wife Gloria Arratia. These studies were concerned with a new interpretation of the caudal skeleton of neopterygian fishes. On Devonian fishes, I studied the ontogeny of Eusthenopteron
, described Elpistostege
from the Upper Devonian locality of Miguasha. Another field of interest became the environmental interpretation of fossil localities like the Devonian of Miguasha and the Pennsylvanian and Lower Permian localities of Kansas. Besides reorganizing the vertebrate collections at the Museum of Natural History at KU (with 10 years of NSF support), I felt it was an obligation as curator to publish catalogues of the type material in the vertebrate paleontological collections. A special course given together with Linda Trueb resulted in the book “Origins of the higher groups of tetrapods. Controversy and Consensus.” In 1989 I published on the special soft anatomy preservation of the Oxfordian fishes of the Atacama desert.
Each summer between 1979 and 1993 I went out collecting in the Devonian of Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and in the Permian and Pennsylvanian of Kansas, Illinois and Indiana with my students; results were published over the years. In March 1994 I returned to collect and excavate in the Jurassic of the Domeyko Range, Atacama Desert, northern Chile.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall I decided to go to East Berlin and reestablish paleontology at the Humboldt-University. This was the position of my advisor Walter Gross at the Natural History Museum, before he decided to stay in West Germany. Geology and paleontology were cut at the Humboldt-University in 1968 with the university reform in East Germany. Now after the reunification there existed a traditional Geology/Paleontology department at the Free University and an engineering geology department at the Technical University. Thus there was no interest to duplicate these in Berlin at the Humboldt Unievrsity, and I was asked to build up a biologically oriented paleontology program and to teach in the biology department. That was an unusual arrangement in Germany, but not new for me with my experience at the University of Kansas. In 1994 I started as head of the Department of Paleontology in Museum of Natural History. I had to take over the directorship of the Museum of Natural History for four years, starting unofficially in 1999 and officially in 2000. Despite the administrational burden I could keep up my publication rate. I published on conodonts, lengthy papers on two Paleoozic lungfish genera, on Mesozoic actinopterygians etc. In 1996 I coedited a book on the Devonian locality Miguasha. I published different papers on the controversy freshwater – marine interpretation of vertebrate localities and at the origin of tetrapods. I got involved in another controversy: Are conodonts vertebrates or not? That culminated in a multiauthored paper in 2010, where it was shown that conodonts are not vertebrates.
In 1995 and 1997 I did two expeditions to the NW Territories to collect early primitive lungfish, porolepiform, acanthodian, and early actinopterygian material from the locality that I, Jarvik and Ørvig published on earlier finds in the 1960’s. Many papers coauthored with S. Cumbaa resulted from these collections. Of special interest was the publication on the early actinopterygian Dialipina
with two dorsal fins and a triphycercal caudal fin. While being head of the Paleontology Department at the Museum of Natural History in Berlin I could initiate and get the funding for an expedition to Tendaguru (Tanzania) to investigate the environmental condition of the deposition of the large dinosaurs – a coastal marine lagoon.
The connection with zoology became very obvious when I was invited to contribute to a German zoology textbook (Westheide & Rieger) not only on fossil fishes but also on extant sarcopterygians. The first edition was published in 2003, the second in 2010 and the third is in progress.
After retirement in 2004, I returned to Lawrence, Kansas, where I have more time for research without any administrational obligations. Besides publishing papers on environmental interpretations, conodonts, Mesozoic and Paleozoic osteichthyans, I edited two volumes of the Handbook of Paleoichtyology and coedited two volumes of Mesozoic Fishes (vol. 4 and 5) and a book on the “Origin and Phylogenetic Interrelationships of Teleosts.” I agreed to cooperate on herpetological osteology with B. Rothschild, which resulted in a paper in Gaffney’s retirement volume and a book “Herpetological Osteopathology. Annotated Bibliography of Amphibians and Reptiles.“ At the moment I coedit a book on Solnhofen with over 40 authors and 4 editors.
In 2008 S. Cumbaa and myself repeated an expedition to Anderson River, NW Territories, Canada, where we finally found the arthrodires we had not found in the two earlier expeditions to the same locality. In 2009 and 2012, we, G. Arratia and I, collected fishes in the Tertiary and Lower Cretaceous of Central Mexico. Some of the Early Cretaceous fishes of that Mexican locality are very specialized (armoured) teleostean fishes.
During my career I have educated five master students and 12 PhD students and I have been part of the committee of 13 graduate students in Germany and in the United States, and of 11 habilitations in Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium. In addition, I have been the advisor of five postdoctoral fellows from Chile, Germany, Spain, China and Australia. I feel proud to report that many of my students are very successful in their academic careers.