- vertebrate paleobiology
- systematics and phylogeny of Cetacea (whales and dolphins)
- Cretaceous-Cenozoic paleontology & stratigraphy
- paleoceanography and paleoclimates
- Research Associate, Department of Vertebrate Zoology and Department of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, USA
- Museum Associate, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington
- Visiting Researcher, Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum, Katsuyama, Japan
- Research Associate, Michigan State University Museum, East Lansing, Michigan, USA
- Hutton Medallist, Royal Society of New Zealand
- Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand
- McKay Hammer, Geoscience Society of New Zealand
- Riversleigh Medal, Society for Vertebrate Paleontology
Research interests (see also fossil research web pages)
- vertebrate paleobiology (see paleontology section of this website), especially New Zealand-Southwest Pacific
- systematics and phylogeny of Cetacea (whales and dolphins)
- Cretaceous-Cenozoic paleontology, stratigraphy, and paleoecology
- paleoceanography and paleoclimates
- paleontology and geology for the public - Vanished World Trail and Vanished World Centre of North Otago
Current and recent research
Research interests include the paleontology, morphology, taxonomy, systematics, and phylogeny of Cetacea – whales and dolphins, fossil and recent. I have worked with many postgraduate students, most recently those listed below, and with colleagues overseas.
Morphology – or structure – is the interface between genetics and ecology. Morphology is the key to interpreting fossils. If we understand functional complexes in fossils, it can help to understand the evolution of living animals. An interest in cetacean morphology led to publication of this illustrated monograph on osteological landmarks in the dolphin skull, based on the study of modern and fossil species:
- Mead, J.G. and Fordyce, R.E. 2009 – The therian skull: a lexicon with emphasis on the odontocetes. Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology 627: 1-248.
Dolphins and whales are radically different from terrestrial mammals; their skeletons present many features that, although often difficult to interpret, are widely used to interpret relationships, evolution, and lifestyle. We homologise features of dolphin skulls with those of other mammals, and explain the comparisons. The work should be of interest to cetacean systematists, mammalogists and vertebrate paleontologists.
Free pdf download of 'The Therian Skull : A Lexicon with Emphasis on the Odontocetes'
Long-term interests particularly involve fossil cetacean studies. Many PhD students, below, are or have been involved in this research. Our studies have considered the evolution of feeding mechanisms in baleen whales such as Tokarahia, Horopeta and Mauicetus. Finds in the 1990s and 2000s have helped to understand the ecology of putative late-surving archaeocetes encompassing Kekenodon. Several articles have considered the relationships and lifstyles of early dolphins including Papahu, Otekaikea, and Awamokoa. A project is under way on phylogenetics of shark-toothed dolphins - Squalodontidae. New Zealand tusked dolphins may be related to archaic long-beaked tusked dolphins from Oregon and Baja California Sur, Mexico. These and other projects deal mainly with fossils of Late Oligocene age - from the early explosive radiation of the Neoceti. Some of the fossils are shown in the adjacent photos of lab activity.
Related activity with living species of cetaceans has included dissections of naturally-stranded juvenile pygmy right whales, Caperea marginata, with Anton van Helden of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa (several dissections, including November 2011 - see photo right). Felix Marx and I have had a longer-term interest in the phylogenetic relationships of Caperea, based on morphological cladistics (Marx & Fordyce, 2015, Baleen boom and bust … Royal Society Open Science 2:DOI 10.1098/rsos.140434). Researchers in the cetacean paleontology group have also been involved in work on recently stranded cetaceans, especially Moyna Müller and Carol Loch. Of note are recent strandings of the spectacled porpoise, Phocoena dioptrica. In such work, we have strong links with Department of Conservation, relevant iwi, Otago Museum, and Department of Marine Sciences at Otago.
I maintain a field programme to recover fossil cetaceans and other fossil vertebrates from southern New Zealand, especially from rocks around the Waitaki Valley. This usually involves postgraduate students - and provides training in field methods using pneumatic tools (chipping hammers, air scribes, grinders, rock drills), masonry and chainsaws, petrol (gas)-powered rock drill, and plaster jacketing.
Pictures show field work from the distant past to recent:
Evolution and systematics of penguins
Rocks in southern New Zealand have produced important fossil penguins, including many specimens found during field work on fossil cetaceans and now held in the Geology Museum at University of Otago. These have been studied by past postgraduate students: Craig Jones (MSc), Tatsuro Ando (PhD) and Daniel Thomas (PhD). Of note are stem-penguins in the genus Waimanu, and the recently-named Kaiika [literally, food-fish, alluding to penguin diet], studied with former PhD student Daniel Thomas. In 2012, Dan Ksepka, Tatsuro Ando, Craig Jones and I named and described a new genus, Kairuku [diver that returns with food], for 2 of the “giant” Late Oligocene Palaeeudyptes-like penguins in our article “New fossil penguins (Aves, Sphenisciformes) from the Oligocene of New Zealand reveal the skeletal plan of stem penguins” which appeared in Journal of vertebrate paleontology 32:235-254. Most recently, Dan Ksepka and I wrote a popular article on penguins in Scientific American for November 2012. See also the separate web pages on penguins.
New Zealand marine vertebrates
Beyond cetaceans and penguins, covered above, New Zealand has an important record of other marine vertebrates. The Geology Museum at University of Otago holds specimens of plesiosaurs, mosasaurs, sea turtles, bony fish, and chondrichthyans. Articles of note in recent years include those of Gottfried et al. (2006 and 2012) on the teleosts Megalampris and Aglyptorhynchus, Gottfried & Fordyce on the extinct white shark Carcharodon angustidens, and Cruickshank & Fordyce on the enigmatic “Shagosaurus” plesiosaur from North Otago – formally known as Kaiwhekea. Other web pages review some of these New Zealand records. For summary accounts of New Zealand's marine vertebrates, see the articles by Fordyce (1991) and King et al. (2009) – the latter partly updating the earlier Fordyce summary.
New taxa named and/or described in this research programme
Waipatia maerewhenua Fordyce, 1994 – new genus and species of fossil dolphin (new family Waipatiidae)
Neoceti Fordyce & Muizon 2001 – new clade for Odontoceti and Mysticeti [= crown Cetacea]
Simocetus rayi Fordyce, 2002 – new genus and species of fossil dolphin (new family Simocetidae)
Kaiwhekea katiki Cruickshank & Fordyce, 2002 - new genus and species of plesiosaur (Elasmosauridae)
Australodelphis mirus Fordyce, Quilty & Daniels, 2002 - new genus and species of fossil dolphin (Delphinidae)
Megalampris keyesi Gottfried, Fordyce & Rust, 2006 – new genus and species of teleost fish – moonfish (Lamprididae)
Waimanu manneringi Jones, Ando & Fordyce, 2006 – new genus and species of fossil penguin
Waimanu tuatahi Ando Jones & Fordyce, 2006 – new species of fossil penguin
Kaiika maxwelli Fordyce & Thomas, 2011 – new genus and species of fossil penguin
Aglyptorhynchus hakataramea Gottfried, Fordyce & Rust, 2012 – new species of teleost fish – billfish (Palaeorhynchidae)
Kairuku waitaki Ksepka, Fordyce, Ando & Jones 2012 – new genus and species of giant fossil penguin
Kairuku grebneffi Ksepka, Fordyce, Ando & Jones 2012 – new species of giant fossil penguin
Papahu taitapu Aguirre-Fernandez & Fordyce 2014 - new genus and species of fossil dolphin
Otekaikea Tanaka & Fordyce 2014 - new genus for Prosqualodon marplesi Dickson, fossil dolphin
Otekaikea huata Tanaka & Fordyce 2015 - new species of fossil dolphin
Waharoa ruwhenua Boessenecker & Fordyce, 2015 – new genus and species of dawn baleen whale (Eomysticetidae)
Tohoraata raekohao Boessenecker & Fordyce, 2015 – new genus and species of dawn baleen whale (Eomysticetidae)
Tokarahia kauaeroa Boessenecker & Fordyce, 2015 – new genus and species of dawn baleen whale (Eomysticetidae)
Tokarahia lophocephalus (Marples, 1956) now in new genus Tokarahia Boessenecker & Fordyce, 2015 (Eomysticetidae)
Fucaia buelli Marx, Tsai & Fordyce, 2015 - new genus and species of toothed archaic mysticete
Alexandronectes zealandiensis Otero, O'Gorman, Hiller, O'Keefe & Fordyce, 2016 - new genus and species of plesiosaur (Elasmosauridae)
Horopeta umarere Tsai & Fordyce, 2016 - new genus and species of toothless archaic mysticete
Matapanui waihao (Boessenecker & Fordyce, 2016) – new genus (to replace Matapa of Boessenecker & Fordyce, 2016, preoccupied) and species of dawn baleen whale (Eomysticetidae)
Awamokoa tokarahi Tanaka & Fordyce, 2016 - new genus and species of fossil dolphin
Mammalodon hakataramea Fordyce & Marx, 2016 - new genus and species of toothed archaic mysticete (Mammalodontidae)
Whakakai waipata Tsai & Fordyce, 2016 - new genus and species of toothless archaic mysticete
Visiting researchers have brought important expertise to help interpret material from the Geology Museum collections, and to work with modern cetacean anatomy. Some visitors – either short or long term, and researchers or interns – include:
Tatsuro Ando (Ashoro Museum, Japan)
Tomasz Baumiller (U Michigan, MI, USA),
Monica Buono (CENPAT-CONICET, Puerto Madryn, Argentina)
Gerardo Gonzalez Barba (Univ. Autonoma Baja California Sur, Mexico)
Michael D Gottfried (Michigan State University, MI, USA)
Atzcalli Ehecatl Hernandez Cisneros (Univ. Autonoma Baja California Sur, Mexico)
Erich MG Fitzgerald (Museum Victoria, Melbourne, Australia)
Manon Hullot (Univ of Lyon, France)
Hiroto Ichishima (Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum, Japan)
Daniel Ksepka and Paul Brinkman (NC State University, NC, USA)
Ignacio Moreno (Grupo de Estudos de Mamíferos Aquáticos do Rio Grande do Sul – GEMARS, Brazil)
Jose P O'Gorman (Museo de La Plata, Argentina)
Rodrigo A. Otero (Univ of Chile, Chile)
Nicholas Pyenson (formerly UC Berkeley and now Natural History Museum, Smithsonian Institution, USA)
Mariana Viglino (CENPAT-CONICET, Puerto Madryn, Argentina)
Alastair G Watson (Oklahoma State University, USA).
Postgraduate student supervision
Postgraduate studies completed, 2010 onwards.
- Gabriel Aguirre – Neogene dolphins from New Zealand - Kentriodontidae (PhD, completed). Gabriel is now at University of Zurich, working as a researcher
- Kristina Arthur – Lithostratigraphy, biostratigraphy, isotopic patterns, and Middle Miocene climate change in the Bryce Burn section (MSc, completed). Kristina has completed a PhD in The Netherlands
- Robert "Bobby" Boessenecker – New Zealand archaic baleen whales in the family Eomysticetidae (PhD, completed). Bobby is doing postdoctoral research at the College of Charleston, SC, USA
- Alexandra Burt – morphology and systematics of an allodelphinidae-like dolphin (Postgrad Diploma of Sciences)
- Joshua Corrie – Systematics and functional morphology of Kekenodon-like archaic whales from New Zealand (PhD)
- Amber Coste – Daunting dentitions: Relationships and functional morphology of three new Oligocene dolphins with tusk-like teeth from New Zealand
- Danielle Eagles – Fossil baleen whales (MSc)
- Henry Gard – The paleoecology of the Pomahaka Formation, South Otago. Henry is writing up papers from his MSc studies
- Simone Hicks – Ecological and sedimentological evolution of the volcanically active Eo/Oligocene continental shelf, east Otago (PhD, completed). Simone has been working for a micropal-stratigraphy-sedimentology consultancy in the UK
- Carolina Loch Silva – Comparative study of modern and fossil cetacean dentitions (Cetacea: Delphinoidea and Platanistoidea) (PhD, completed). Carolina is doing postdoctoral research on tooth structure and function, and teaching, in the Sir John Walsh Research Institute, Faculty of Dentistry, University of Otago
- Felix Marx – Evolution of structural disparity in the Cetacea (PhD, completed). Felix has most recently been a postdoctoral researcher, working on fossil Cetacea at National Museum of Nature and Science, Tsukuba, Japan and most recently at Museum Victoria, Melbourne Australia
- Katie Matts – Fossil penguins (PhD)
- Moyna Müller – Palaeontology, Hector's dolphin, comparative flipper anatomy, morphology and taxonomy
- Megan Ortega – Systematics and geological setting of fossil whales and dolphins from Gee Greensand and Mount Harris Formation, Awamoa Beach, North Otago (MSc, completed). Megan is now working in the oil industry in Texas
- Tiffany Plencner – Ontogeny of hearing in dolphins as revealed by microCT study of the cochlear (MSc)
- Marcus Richards – A giant latest Eocene penguin from Kyeburn, Central Otago (MSc)
- Lachie Scarsbrook – Does size matter? Using osteology and ancient DNA to infer impacts of human colonization on Duvaucel's gecko (Hoplodactylus duvaucelii)
- Yoshihiro Tanaka – Morphology and systematics of squalodelphinid and related platanistoid dolphins from New Zealand (PhD, completed). Yoshi is now a curator at the Numata Fossil Museum, Hokkaido, Japan
- Daniel Thomas – Evolution of thermal physiology in penguins: fossils, modern penguins, anatomy, and geochemistry (PhD, completed). Daniel completed postdoctoral fellowships at University of Cape Town, and the Natural History Museum, Smithsonian Institution, and is now a lecturer at Massey University, Albany, NZ
- Cheng-Hsiu Tsai (Tsai) – Systematics and functional morphology in early Mauicetus-like baleen whales (PhD, completed). Tsai is now a postdoctoral researcher, working on fossil Cetacea at National Museum of Nature and Science, Tsukuba, Japan
- Mathew Vanner – Jurassic to Quaternary fossil wood of the South Island, New Zealand
- Mariana Viglino – (CENPAT – CONICET Puerto Madryn, Argentina) – Systematics and functional morphology of Notocetus and related odontocetes from Patagonia (Fordyce is adjunct advisor for this project)
Outreach – for the public
- Te Ara Online Encyclopedia
- See the paleontology section of this website
- Radio New Zealand:Our Changing World for Thursday 1 March 2012 – Ewan Fordyce on giant fossil penguins. Podcast available.
- Radio New Zealand:Our Changing World for Thursday 15 November 2012 – Ewan Fordyce and Felix Marx on whale evolution. Podcast available.
- Radio NZ Nine to Noon Thursday 21 February 2013 Ewan Fordyce on how the Southern Ocean was a critical location for the evolution of whales and dolphins. Embedded below