Prof. Per Ahlberg

 Research profile


I have two principal fields of research: Palaeozoic vertebrate evolution with focus on the origin of tetrapods, and the relationship of molecular-developmental patterning to morphological evolution.

During my PhD (1985-89) I produced a morphological phylogeny of the Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fishes and tetrapods) that is still widely accepted (Zool. J. Linn. Soc. 103, 241-287). I then changed focus to the fish-tetrapod transition, an event that occurred during the Devonian Period (416-359 million years ago), discovering the Devonian tetrapods Elginerpeton, Obruchevichthys (Nature 354, 298-301; Nature 373, 420-425), Ventastega (Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 343, 303-328) and Sinostega (Nature 420, 760-761) as well as the near-tetrapod Livoniana (Palaeontology 43, 533-548). I published the first well-resolved phylogeny of the tetrapod stem group (Nature 395, 792-794) and have also cast light on the origin of key tetrapod structures such as nose, ears and limbs (Nature 381, 61-64; Nature 425, 66-69; Nature 432, 94-97; Nature 437, 137-140; Nature 439, 318-321; Nature 453, 1199-120; Nature 456, 636-638; Science 324, 364-367). Very recently, working with Polish colleagues, I have identified the earliest known tetrapod trackways in early Middle Devonian marine sediments (Nature 463, 43-48). In total my research has pushed back the tetrapod fossil record by nearly 30 million years.


My research on the morphological transition from fish to tetrapod has given me a deep interest in the relationship of morphological evolution to molecular patterning. I have built up an integrated morphological-molecular research programme on the evolution of muscles and bones in vertebrate heads, necks and limbs, bringing together molecular techniques such as transgenic cell lineage labeling with palaeontological data in a single analysis (Nature 436, 347-355; J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev.Evol.) 308B, 757-768). Currently, as the PI of an ERC Advanced Investigator Grant, I am using synchrotron CT to image fossil bone histology in three dimensions at sub-micron resolutions. This work is linked to molecular-developmental research in a project investigating the molecular mechanistics and evolution of bone growth and muscle attachment maintenance over more than 400 million years.

You can download Per's C.V. here