Staff Profiles

John J. Flynn

Frick Curator of Fossil Mammals, Division of Paleontology
Principal Investigator, Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics
Dean & Professor, Richard Gilder Graduate School

Curriculum Vitae (short version)
  • Education

      • Columbia University, Ph.D, 1983
      • Columbia University, M.Phil, 1980
      • Columbia University, M.A., 1979
      • Yale University, B.S., 1977
  • Research Interests

    Research Interests

      Author of more than 150 scientific publications, Dr. Flynn's research focuses on the phylogeny and evolution of mammals and Mesozoic vertebrates, geological dating, plate tectonics, and biogeography. He was curator for the American Museum’s “Extreme Mammals” and “Whales” exhibitions, curated numerous earlier exhibitions, and has contributed articles to Scientific American, Natural History, and National Geographic, provided scientific expertise for several popular science books, and been featured in numerous television and radio shows, newspapers and magazines. Dr. Flynn has led more than 60 paleontological expeditions to Chile, Perú, Colombia, Madagascar, Angola, India, and the Rocky Mountains, and has his research, educational initiatives, and paleontological expeditions supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, National Geographic Society, NASA, and other organizations. In 2001 Flynn received a Guggenheim Fellowship for a year of research, writing and expeditions in South America and was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2009. He is a member of Yale's Peabody Museum Leadership Board, and has served the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP, the world's largest organization of professionals in this field) as President (1999-2001) and member of the Board/Executive Committee (1993-2002), and received the Joseph T. Gregory Award (2007) for service and the Alfred Sherwood Romer Prize (1982) for best student presentation from the SVP.

      With a specialty in mammalian evolution and paleomagnetism, Flynn has spent his career searching for important new fossil localities to better understand mammalian phylogenetics and evolutionary history, as well as developing better ways to read the age of rocks and fossils, leading to more accurate geological time scales. He has contributed to numerous public education projects (university, museum, web, and popular science), is actively pursuing research on mammalian evolution (particularly the anatomy, DNA and evolution of Carnivora and extinct relatives), has helped expand and enhance the world-leading fossil mammal collections at the American Museum, and has current field programs focusing on the Andes Mountains of Chile, Amazon Basin of Perú, and Mesozoic deposits of Madagascar and India.

      On expeditions to the Andes Mountains in Chile over the past three decades, Dr. Flynn and colleagues have discovered extremely important and rare fossil specimens, including the continent's oldest, best preserved fossil primate skull and early rodent fossils, both of which suggest an African origin for these important New World groups. These same Andean volcanic-derived deposits have produced more than a dozen new mammal faunas, spanning at least 30 million years (about 10-40 million years ago) and more than four degrees of latitude, including a new South American Land Mammal "Age" (the Tinguirirican, about 32-34 million years old) and evidence for the oldest open habitat/grassland environments found anywhere in the world. This research also yields important insights into the relationships and evolutionary history of other mammals, including a variety of groups native to South America.  This work on South American faunas has included work throughout the Chilean Andes, from Patagonia to the Altiplano, as well as in the Peruvian Amazon and Colombia.  Similarly, 8 expeditions to Madagascar uncovered spectacular Mesozoic fossils, from mid-late Triassic cynodonts, archosaurs, and rhynchosaurs to tiny advanced mid-Jurassic mammals representing the oldest known tribosphenic mammals.  Together with doctoral students and postdoctoral scientists, Flynn's research also has focused on integrating DNA, anatomical and paleontological data in analysis of the phylogeny and diversification of major groups of mammals (including the multi-investigator “Assembling the Tree of Life- Mammalia” project), and the investigation of the evolutionary relationships, craniodental function, and patterns and rates of evolution of the mammalian order Carnivora (e.g. cats, dogs, bears, weasels, seals, etc.) and its extinct relatives. Recent research has generated the most comprehensive DNA-based phylogeny of living Carnivora, and studies of body size and relative brain size evolution across living and fossil members of this group.  Current research analyzes high-resolution CT images from the Museum’s new CT scanner. Recent studies and others underway by Flynn and colleagues of the internal structures of skulls, including the inner ear (organ of balance and orientation), are yielding new insights into the evolutionary relationships and locomotion specializations of New World Primates, endemic South American ungulates (hoofed plant-eaters), cetaceans, rodents, and carnivorans and their fossil relatives.

  • Publications

  • Teaching Experience

    Teaching Experience