John J. Flynn

Frick Curator of Fossil Mammals, Division of Paleontology

Principal Investigator, Institute for Comparative Genomics

Dean & Professor, Richard Gilder Graduate School



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

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.


Richard Gilder Graduate School

Division of Paleontology

Institute of Comparative Genomics

Extreme Mammals


(Selected recent publications)

2018. Mosolf, J.G., P.B. Gans, A.R. Wyss, J. Cottle, and J.J. Flynn. Late Cretaceous to Miocene volcanism, sedimentation, and upper crustal faulting and folding in the Principal Cordillera, central Chile: Field and geochronological evidence for protracted arc volcanism and transpressive deformation. Geological Society of America Bulletin 10.1130/B31998.1 (22 pp.).


2018. Tejada-Lara, J.V., B.J. MacFadden, L. Bermudez, G. Rojas, R. Salas-Gismondi, and J.J. Flynn. Body mass predicts isotope fractionation in herbivorous mammals. Proceedings B (Proceedings of the Royal Society B), v. 285:20181020 (10 pp.).


2018. Tseng, Z.J., and J.J. Flynn. Structure-function covariation with nonfeeding ecological variables influences evolution of feeding specialization in Carnivora. Science Advances 4: eaao5441 (13 pp.).


2018. Grohé, C., B. Lee, and J.J. Flynn. Recent inner ear specialization for high-speed hunting in cheetahs.  Scientific Reports 8:2301 (8 pp.).


2018.  Engelman, R.K., J.J. Flynn, P. Gans, A.R. Wyss, and D.A. Croft.  Chlorocyon phantasma, a Late Eocene borhyaenoid (Mammalia: Metatheria: Sparassodonta) from the Los Helados Locality, Andean Main Range, Central Chile. Novitates, no. 3918 (22 pp.).


2016.  Salas-Gismondi, R., J.J. Flynn, P. Baby, J.V. Tejada-Lara, J. Claude, and P.-O. Antoine.  A new 13 million year old gavialoid crocodylian from proto-Amazonian mega-wetlands reveals parallel evolutionary trends in skull shape linked to longirostry. PLoS ONE 11(4): e0152453. (29 pp.).


2016. Racicot, R.A., W. Gearty, N. Kohno, and J.J. Flynn. Comparative anatomy of the bony labyrinth of extant and extinct porpoises (Mammalia: Cetacea: Phocoenidae). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 119(4):831-846.


2016. Grohé C., Z.J. Tseng, R. Lebrun, R. Boistel, and J.J. Flynn. Bony labyrinth shape variation in extant Carnivora: A case study of Musteloidea. Journal of Anatomy 228(3): 366–383.


2016. Tseng, Z.J., C. Grohé, and J.J. Flynn. A dual-feeding model for the unique predatory behaviour of the extinct marine mammal Kolponomos: Convergence on sabretooths and sea otters. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 283: 20160044 (8 pp.).


2015. Nesbitt, S., J.J. Flynn, A.C. Pritchard, J.M. Parrish, L. Ranivoharimanana, and A.R. Wyss. Postcranial osteology of Azendohsaurus madagaskarensis (?Middle to Upper Triassic, Isalo Group, Madagascar) and its systematic position among stem archosaur reptiles. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 398 (126 pp.).


2015. Tseng, Z.J., and J.J. Flynn. An integrative method for testing form-function linkages and reconstructed evolutionary pathways of masticatory specialization. Journal of the Royal Society Interface 12:20150184 (10 pp.).


2015. Tseng, Z.J., and J.J. Flynn. Convergence analysis of a finite element skull model of Herpestes javanicus (Carnivora, Mammalia): implications for robust comparative inferences of biomechanical function. Journal of Theoretical Biology 365:112–148.


2015. Tseng, Z.J., and J.J. Flynn. 2015. Are cranial biomechanical simulation data linked to known diets in extant taxa? A method for applying morpho-functional linkage models to infer feeding capability of extinct species. PLoS ONE 10(4): e0124020 (25 pp.).


2015. Salas-Gismondi, R., J.J. Flynn, P. Baby, J. Tejada-Lara, F.P. Wesselingh, and P.-O. Antoine.  Unique crocodylian diversity hotspot in Miocene proto-Amazonian mega-wetlands. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 282: 20142490 (10 pp.)


2015. Bradham, J., J.J. Flynn, D.A. Croft, and A.R. Wyss. New notoungulates (Notostylopidae and basal toxodontians) from the Early Oligocene Tinguiririca Fauna of the Andean Main Range, central Chile. Novitates, no. 3841 (24 pp.).


2014. Perrichot, V., P.-O. Antoine, R. Salas-Gismondi, J.J. Flynn, and M.S. Engel. The genus Macroteleia Westwood in Middle Miocene amber from Peru (Hymenoptera, Platygastridae s.l., Scelioninae). ZooKeys 426:119–127.


2013. Macrini, T.E., J.J. Flynn, X. Ni, D.A. Croft, and A.R. Wyss. Comparative study of notoungulate (Placentalia, Mammalia) bony labyrinths and new phylogenetically informative inner ear characters. Journal of Anatomy 223:442-461.


2013.  O’Leary, M.A., J.I. Bloch, J.J. Flynn, et al. Phylogenetic reconstruction of the post K-Pg placental ancestor and a transformation of the scale of phylophenomics. Science 339: 662-667.


2013. Flynn, J.J. Cenozoic Andean mammal faunas: Shedding new light on evolution, chronology, paleoenvironments and tectonics.  Bollettino di Geofisica: teorica ed applicata, An International Journal of Earth Sciences 54 (suppl. 2):24-26.


2013. Prasad, G.V.R., O. Verma, J.J. Flynn, and A. Goswami. A new Late Cretaceous vertebrate fauna from the Cauvery Basin, South India: Implications for Gondwanan paleobiogeography.  Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 33(6):1260-1268.


2013. Ni, X., D.L. Gebo, M. Dagosto, J. Meng, P. Tafforeau, J.J. Flynn, and K.C. Beard.  The oldest known primate skeleton and early haplorhine evolution.  Nature 498(7452):60-64


2012. Spaulding, M., and J.J. Flynn. Phylogeny of the Carnivoramorpha: The impact of postcranial characters. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology 10(4):653–677.


2012. Flynn, J.J., R. Charrier, D.A. Croft, and A.R. Wyss. Cenozoic Andean faunas: Shedding new light on South American mammal evolution, biogeography, environments, and tectonics. In: B.D. Patterson and L.P. Costa (eds.), Historical biogeography of Neotropical mammals, University of Chicago Press, pp. 51-75.


2012. Kammerer, C.F., J.J. Flynn, L. Ranivoharimanana, and A.R. Wyss. Ontogeny in the traversodontid Dadadon isaloi and a reconsideration of its phylogenetic relationships. Fieldiana Life and Earth Sciences 5:112-125.


2012. Bertrand, O.C., J.J. Flynn, D.A. Croft, and A.R. Wyss. New rodents (Caviomorpha) from the Early Oligocene Tinguiririca Fauna (Chile). Novitates, no. 3750 (36 pp.).


2012. Ni, X., J.J. Flynn, and A.R. Wyss. Application of high-resolution CT and three-dimensional virtual reconstruction in morphological study on fossil mammalian inner ear. Palaeontologica Electronica 15.2.18A (10 pp.).

Teaching Experience


Faculty Appointments

  • Adjunct Professor (voting), Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Columbia University, 2005-present
  • Adjunct Professor (voting), Departments of Biology and Earth and Environmental Sciences, City University of New York, 2005-present
  • Resource Faculty, NYCEP (New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology)

Courses Taught

  • Grantsmanship, Ethics and Communication (core course), Richard Gilder Graduate School, 2008- present
  • Vertebrate Paleobiology, Richard Gilder Graduate School, Fall 2011, Fall 2015, Spring 2019 (planned)
  • Major Events in Evolution: The Paleozoic-Mesozoic Transition, Spring 2011
  • Independent Study Courses, Undergraduate, Columbia University, Spring & Fall 2016
  • Vertebrate Paleontology-Evolution Seminar, Topics in Vertebrate Evolution: Methods and Case Studies, Columbia University, Fall 2005
  • Seminar in Vertebrate Paleontology: The Origins of Major Vertebrate Clades, Columbia University, Spring 2006
  • Seminar in Vertebrate Paleontology: A Total Evidence Approach to Lizard Phylogeny, Columbia University, Spring 2006

Graduate Advisees

More than 20 PhD students and several Masters students supervised since 1986; recent PhD students include:

  • Julia Tejada-Lara, Columbia University
  • Anna Ragni, Richard Gilder Graduate School, AMNH
  • Zachary Calamari, Richard Gilder Graduate School, AMNH
  • Abagael West, Columbia University
  • Kaori Tsukui, Columbia University
  • Shaena Montanari (co-advisor), Richard Gilder Graduate School, AMNH
  • Michelle Spaulding, Columbia University
  • Andrés Giallombardo, Columbia University
  • Lovasoa Ranivoharimanana, University of Antananarivo, Madagascar
  • Anjali Goswami, University of Chicago
  • John Finarelli, University of Chicago
  • Jon Marcot, University of Chicago
  • Karen Sears, University of Chicago

Graduate Committees

Served on 20 PhD and numerous Masters committees since 1984; recent PhD committees include:

  • R. Benjamin Sulser, Richard Gilder Graduate School, AMNH
  • Jianye Chen, Columbia University
  • Rodolfo Salas-Gismondi, Université Montpelier 2, France
  • Rui Pei, Columbia University
  • Hong-yu Yi, Columbia University
  • Stephen Brusatte, Columbia University
  • Amy Balanoff, Columbia University
  • Sterling Nesbitt, Columbia University
  • Alan Turner, Columbia University