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Brian Swartz
Padian Lab

Brian Swartz


Phone: (510) 643-2109

Web page:

His research: Brian Swartz is a doctoral student of evolutionary biology and studies the interplay of form, function, and history over macroevolutionary time. His current research seeks to better understand the origin of terrestrial vertebrates during the Devonian Period (410-355 million years ago) by utilizing data from fossils, geology, and living animals. Before coming to Berkeley, Brian studied evolutionary biology at the University of Cambridge in the Departments of Zoology and Earth Sciences. He frequently teaches classes in evolution and has worked with The National Center for Science Education, the University of California Museum of Paleontology, and The Discovery Channel to develop evolutionary resources for science teachers and for public dissemination.

As a scientist, his current projects include, (i) describing a new fossil tetrapod �precursor� from the Devonian of western North America; (ii) resolving the order and early evolution of tetrapod-like (non)aptations; (iii) using assemblage, geographic, stratigraphic, and isotopic data to reconstruct the paleoenvironmental history of the vertebrate 'water-to-land' transition; (iv) dissecting and CT/nMRI scanning sharks, ray-fins, coelacanths, lungfishes, and giant salamanders in order to understand how features, already present in 'fish', underpin the origin of walking on land; and (v) tracing the history of locomotor gaits to understand the origin and early evolution of terrestrial locomotion.

Brian�s other deliberations include the history and structure of evolutionary theory, the limitations of the neo-Darwinian synthesis, the relationship between micro and macroevolution, metazoan phylogeny, the Proterozoic diversification of eukaryotes, the utility of evolutionary medicine, human ecology, and the history of dietary and nutritional research.

Why evolutionary biology: "I have long been drawn to counterintuitive, iconoclastic, and intellectually obscure hypotheses � and considering the history of transformational ideas and evidence associated with (macro)evolutionary theory and terrestrial vertebrate origins � I was only naturally drawn to the field."

On science and the public: Brian is interested in improving the public's understanding of macroevolution. His work on the origin of tetrapods is featured on the Understanding Evolution website, and was used by Berkeley Professor Kevin Padian in his testimony at the Dover, Pennsylvania, �intelligent design� trial (Kitzmiller et al. vs. Dover Area School Board).


Barnosky A.D., M. Holmes, R. Kirchholtes, E. Lindsey, K.C. Maguire, A.W. Poust, M.A. Stegner, J. Sunseri, B. Swartz, J. Swift, N.A. Villavicencio, G.O.U. Wogan. 2014. Prelude to the Anthropocene: Two new North American Land Mammal Ages (NALMAs). Anthropocene Review, 9 Sept. 2014. Anthropocene Review 1-18.  Read it

2011. Tomiya, S., Swartz, B.A., Batavia, M. Educational values of the University of California Museum of Paleontology. University Museums and Collections Journal 3/2010: 61-66.

Barnosky, A. D., Nicholas Matzke, Susumu Tomiya, Guin Wogan, Brian Swartz, Tiago Quental, Charles Marshall, Jenny L. McGuire, Emily L. Lindsey, Kaitlin C. Maguire, Ben Mersey, Elizabeth A. Ferrer. 2011. Has the Earth's sixth mass extinction already arrived? Nature 471:51-57  Read it

Swartz, B. 2009. On the "duel" nature of history: Revisiting contingency versus determinism. PLoS Biology 7(12):e1000259. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000259.

Swartz, B.A 2009. Devonian actinopterygian phylogeny and evolution based on a redescription of Stegotrachelus finlayi. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 156(4):750-784.

2004. Oakley, T.H., Swartz, B.A. Supermatrix phylogenetic analyses support parallel evolution of complex life history (anadromy) in Atlantic and Pacific Salmon. Integrative and Comparative Biology 44(6): 614.