Prof John Long researches the early evolution of vertebrates in order to unravel the stages of how the modern vertebrate body plan evolved.
Many parts of our human anatomy had their origins back in the Early Palaeozoic (540-350 million years ago) in fishes. This was when jaws, teeth, paired limbs, ossified brain-cases, intromittent genital organs, chambered hearts and paired lungs all first appeared.
Prof Long has served as the Vice President of Research and Collections at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (2009-2012), Head of Sciences at Museum Victoria (2004-2009) and as Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the Western Australian Museum (1989-2004). He served as the President of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (2014-2016) and as the President of the Royal Society of South Australia (2016-2019).
For the past 34 years Prof Long has been collecting fossils from the Gogo sites in northern Western Australia, whose perfectly preserved 3-D fish fossils have yielded many significant discoveries, including mineralised soft tissues, the origins of complex sexual reproduction in vertebrates. He has also conducted field work collecting fossils in Antarctica (4 expeditions), SE Asia, USA, Iran, South Africa, and China.
His discoveries include the State Fossil Emblem of Western Australia (Mcnamaraspis), the mother fish with the world's oldest vertebrate embryo (Materpiscis), a tetrapod-like fish with large holes on top of its head for air-breathing (Gogonasus), the oldest evidence for copulation in vertebrates (Microbrachius) and new information about the origin of the vertebrate hand (Elpistostege).
He has also worked on fossil heritage issues, working with Government agencies over the years to help solve fossil-related crime and repatriate fossils smuggled out of other countries including China and Argentina.
Prof Long is an author of many adult and children's books, including non-fiction and fiction, covering topics as diverse as evolution, dinosaurs, fossil fishes, prehistoric mammals, travels in Antarctica, the illegal fossil trade, climate change and the birth of human civilisation.
His most recent books include " Dawn of the Deed -The Prehistoric Origins of Sex" (University of Chicago Press, 2012) which gives an account of the Gogo discoveries and explores their relevance and other fossils showing evidence for sexual behaviour for understanding sex in an evolutionary context, and "Frozen in Time - Prehistoric Life in Antarctica" (with Jeffrey Stilwell, CSIRO Publishing 2011).
In 2020 he received the prestigious Bettison and James Award for lifetime achievement for his contributions to palaeontological research and science communication.
2001 Eureka Prize for Promotion of Science; 2008 Australasian Science Prize; 2011, short-listed for the Eureka Prize for Scientific Research; 2011 Royal Society of Victoria Research Medal, 2014 Verco Medal, Royal Society of SA