Melanie Stiassny

Herbert R. and Evelyn Axelrod Research Curator, Department of Ichthyology, Division of Vertebrate Zoology

Principal Investigator, Institute for Comparative Genomics

Professor, Richard Gilder Graduate School



  • University of London, Ph.D., 1980
  • University of London, B.S., 1976

Research Interests

Melanie’s research focuses on the systematics and evolutionary morphology of tropical freshwater fish faunas, and applies classical descriptive anatomy, geometric morphometrics, CT and MRI scanning for hard and soft tissue visualization, and 3D reconstruction for spatial and volumetric analyses. Her taxonomic expertise spans the teleostean tree of life, and includes phylogenetic studies of diverse teleostean lineages. Ongoing projects are centered in central Africa and seek to document how diversity is partitioned, and to elucidate mechanisms underlying species diversification applying population genetic and phylogeographic components that integrate novel hydrographic and bathymetric data at varying geographic scales. Current work also seeks to aid NGO’s and governmental agencies develop regional conservation strategies. Key to this is the establishment of in-country expertise and she maintains an active collaboration with the universities of Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo) and Marien Ngouabi (Republic of Congo) to promote training of Congolese nationals.

She serves as advisor to numerous international scientific and conservation organizations such as the IUCN, USAID, and the International Foundation for Science. She is a member of the National Council of the World Wildlife Fund and the Advisory Board of National Geographic Society’s Conservation Trust.


Division of Vertebrate Zoology

Division of Ichthyology

Institute for Comparative Genomics

Richard Gilder Graduate School

Congo Project



Chiozzi, G., M.L.J. Stiassny, G. De Marchi, A. Lamboj, M. Fasola, and C. Fruciano. 2018. A diversified kettle of fish: phenotypic variation in the endemic cichlid genus Danakiliaof the Danakil Depression of northeastern Africa. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 124 (4): 690–705. [DOI: 10.1093/biolinnean/bly085]

Mamonekene, V., A. Ibala Zamba andM. L. J. Stiassny.  2018. A new small barb (Cyprininae: Smiliogastrini) from the Louesse, Lekoumou (upper Niari basin), and Djoulou (upper Ogowe basin) rivers in the Republic of Congo, west-central Africa. American Museum Novitates No. 3917: 1-16.


Arcila, D., G. Orti, R. Vari, J.W. Armbruster, M.L.J. Stiassny, KKo, M.H. Sabaj, J. Lundberg, L.J. Revell, and R. Betancur-R. 2017. Genome-wide interrogation advances resolution of recalcitrant groups in the Tree of Life. Nature Ecology & Evolution 1, 0020. [DOI: 10.1038/s41559-016-0020] 

Alter, S.E., J. Munshi-South, and M.L.J. Stiassny. 2017. Genome-wide SNP data reveal cryptic phylogenetic structure and history of hybridization in a rapids-adapted clade of cichlids from the Congo River. Molecular Ecology 26: 1401–1419. 

Chakrabarty, P., B.C. Faircloth, W.B. Ludt, C.D. McMahan, T.J. Near, A. Dornberg, J.S. Albert, J. Arroyave, M.L.J. Stiassny, L. Sorenson, and M.E. Alfaro. 2017. Phylogenomic systematics of ostariophysan fishes: ultraconserved elements support the surprising non-monophyly of Characiformes. Systematic Biology 66 (6): 881–895. [DOI: 10.1093/sysbio/syx038]

Chiozzi, G., M.L.J Stiassny, S.E. Alter, G. De Marchi, Y. Mebrathu, B. Asmamaw, M. Fasola, and A. Bellati. 2017. Fishes in the desert: mitochondrial variation and phylogeography of Danakilia (Actinopterygii: Cichlidae) and Aphanius (Actinopterygii: Cyprinodontidae) in the Danakil Depression of northeastern Africa. Mitochondrial DNA, Part A, 29 (7): 1025–1040. [DOI: 10.1080/24701394.2017.1404043] 

Day J.J., A. Fages, K.J. Brown, E.J. Vreven, M.L.J. Stiassny, R. Bills, J.P. Friel, and L. Rüber. 2017. Multiple independent colonizations into the Congo Basin during the continental radiation of African Mastacembelus spiny eels. Journal of Biogeography 44 (10): 2308–2318. [doi: 10.1111/jbi.13037]

Drew, J.A., C.S. Moreau, and M.L.J Stiassny. Digitization of museum collections can improve researcher diversity. 2017. Nature Ecology and Evolution, 1: 1789–1790. [DOI: 10.1038/s41559-017-0401-6] 

Martinez, C.M.and M.L.J. Stiassny. 2017. Can an eel be a flatfish? Observations on an asymmetrical heterenchelyid eel from the Guinea coast of West Africa. Journal of Fish Biology 91(2): 673–678[DOI: 10.1111/jfb.13365/full] 


Ceriaco, L.M.P., et al. (493 co-authors, including J. Arroyave, L. Prendini, J.S. Sparksand M.L.J. Stiassny.) 2016. Photography-based taxonomy is inadequate, unnecessary, and potentially harmful for biological sciences. Zootaxa 4196 (3): 435–445

Harrison, I.J., R. Brummett, and M.L.J. Stiassny. 2016. Congo River Basin. In M. Finlayson, G.R. Milton, R.C. Prentice, and N.C. Davidson (editors), The Wetland Book: Distribution, Description and Conservation. Springer. 

Ibala Zamba, A., V. Mamonekene, E. Vreven and M.L.J. Stiassny. 2016. Rehabilitation of Xenocharax crassus Pellegrin, 1900 (Teleostei: Distichodontidae), a species endemic to the Congo basin in central Africa. Ichthyological Explorations in Freshwater27(4), 347–354. 

Pezold, F., R.C. Schmidt, and M.L.J. Stiassny. 2016. A survey of the fishes of the Geebo- Dugbe River confluence, Sinoe County, Liberia, with an emphasis on tributary creeks. Aqua, International Journal of Ichthyology 22(3): 97–122. 

Stiassny, M.L.J., T. Liyandja, and R.J.C. Monsembula Iyaba. 2016. A new small barb (Cyprininae: Smiliogastrini) from the N’sele and Mayi Ndombe Rivers in the lower reaches of the middle Congo basin (Democratic Republic of Congo). American Museum Novitates 3848, 1–15. 

Stiassny, M.L.J., and H. Sakharova. 2016.Review of the smiliogastrin cyprinids of the Kwilu River (Kasai Basin, central Africa), revised diagnosis for Clypeobarbus (Cyprinidae: Cyprininae: Smiliogastrini) and description of a new species.  Journal of Fish Biology 2016 DOI:10.1111/jfb.12901

Stiassny, M.L.J. 2016. (review of) Fishes. A Guide to their Diversity. Hastings et al. (2014), University of California Press. Systematic Biology 65(1): 178–179. 

Winemiller, K.O., M.L.J. Stiassny et al. 2016. Balancing hydropower and biodiversity in the Amazon, Congo, and Mekong, Basin-scale planning is needed to minimize impacts in mega-diverse rivers. Science 351(6269), 128– 129. 


Alter, S.E., B. Brown and M.L.J. Stiassny. 2015. Multi-locus phylogeny reveals convergent evolution in lower Congo River spiny eels. BMC Evolutionary Biology (2015) 15:224 DOI 10.1186/s12862-015-0507-x 

Fedrizzi, N, M.L.J. Stiassny, J.T. Boehm, E.R. Dougherty, G. Amato, and M. Mendez. 2015. Population genetic structure of the dwarf seahorse (Hippocampus zosterae) in Florida. PLoS ONE 10(7): e0132308. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0132308. 

Parenti, L.R. and Stiassny, M.L.J. 2015. Obituary, Rosemary Helen Lowe-McConnell (1921-2014), Honorary Foreign Member in Ichthyology. Copeia 104(2): 607–609. 

Stiassny, M.L.J. and Kaufman, L.S. 2015. Rosemary Lowe-McConnell, obituary. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 98, 1719–1722. DOI:10.1007/s10641-015-0409-1. 

Stiassny, M.L.J. and Alter, S.E. 2015. Phylogenetics of Teleogramma, a riverine clade of African cichlid fishes, with a description of the deep-water molluskivore – Teleogramma obamaorum – from the lower reaches of the middle Congo River. American Museum Novitates, 3831, 1-18. 


ARROYAVE, A., DENTON, J.S.S. AND STIASSNY, M.L.J. (2013). Are characiform fishes Gondwanan in origin? Insights from a time-scaled molecular phylogeny of the Citharinoidei (Ostariophysi: Characiformes). PLOS ONE 8(10): e77269. doi:10.1371

STIASSNY, M.L.J., DENTON, J.S.S. AND MONSEMBULA IYABA, R.J.C. (2013). A new ectoparasitic distichodontid of the genus Eugnathichthys (Characiformes: Citharinoidei) from the Congo basin of central Africa, with a molecular phylogeny for the genus. Zootaxa, 3693(4), 479-490

MONSEMBULA IYABA, R.J.C. & STIASSNY, M.L.J. (2013). Fishes of the Salonga National Park (Congo basin, central Africa): a list of species collected in the Luilaka, Salonga, and Yenge Rivers (Equateur Province, Democratic Republic of Congo). Check List, 9(2), 246-256.

SCHOBERT, C.S., STIASSNY, M.L.J., SCHWAB, I.R., ZEISS, C., SCHELLY, R.C. & DUBIELZIG, R.R. (2012) Comparative ocular anatomy in a blind African cichlid fish, Lamprologus lethops. Veterinary Ophthalmology. DOI 10.1111/vop.12006 (pub online 11.2012)

MBIMBI, J.J. & STIASSNY, M.L.J. (2012). A new Alestopetersius (Characiformes: Alestidae) from the Kwilu River (Kasai basin) of central Africa; with a phylogeny for the genus and synonomy of Duboisialestes. Zootaxa 3166, 59-68.

LIAO, T.Y., ARROYAVE, J. & STIASSNY, M.L.J. (2012) Diagnosis of Asian Raiamas (Teleostei: Cyprinidae: Chedrina) with comments on chedrin relationships and previously proposed diagnostics for Opsaridium and Raiamas. Ichthyological Research, 59, 328-341.

ARROYAVE, J & STIASSNY, M.L.J. (2011) Phylogenetic relationships and the temporal context for the diversification of African characins of the familyAlestidae (Ostariophysi: Characiformes): evidence from DNA sequence data. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 60(3), 385-397.

LOWENSTIEN, J., OSUMNDSON, T., TSHIBWABWA, S., BECKER, S., HANNER, R., & M.L.J. STIASSNY (2011). Incorporating DNA barcodes into a multi-year inventory of the fishes of the hyperdiverse Lower Congo River, with a multi-gene performance assessment of the genus Labeo as a case study. Mitochondrial DNA, 21(S2): 1-19.

MARKERT, J.A., SCHELLY, R.S. & M.L.J. STIASSNY (2010). Genetic isolation and morphological divergence mediated by high-energy rapids in two cichlid genera from the lower Congo rapids. BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:149.

STIASSNY M.L.J.,C. REVENGA & P. COMER (2010). Aquatic Ecosystems: Diversity and Dynamism. In: Fresh Water – The Essence of Life. Chapter 2. R.A. Mittermeier, T. Farrell, I. Harrison, T.M. Brooks & A. Upgren (eds). CEMEX/ILCP, Virginia, USA, pp. 93-116.

Teaching Experience


Faculty Appointments

  • Adjunct Professor, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology, Columbia University.
  • Adjunct Professor, The Graduate Center, CUNY. 

Courses Taught

  • Fish biodiversity: systematics and evolution, undergraduate/graduate class with lab (co-taught with John Sparks), Columbia University.

Graduate Advisees

  • Raoul Monsembula, Ph.D. candidate, University of Kinshasa
  • José Justin Mbimbi Mayi Munene, Ph.D. candidate, University of Kinshasa
  • Nathan Fedrizzi, M.S. candidate, Columbia University
  • Tobit Liyandja, M.S. candidate, University of Kinshasa

Graduate Committees

  • Dawn Roje, Ph.D. candidate, RGGS