PeerJ Award Winners at APF 2024

by | Jun 26, 2024 | Award Winner Interviews, Uncategorized

The 2024 Annual Congress of the Association Paléontologique Française (APF) convened over sixty researchers, postdoctoral academics, PhD students, and amateur palaeontologists in the southwestern French city of Montauban (Tarn-et-Garonne) from the 3rd to the 7th of June. The congress was organised with the support of the Victor Brun Natural History Museum of Montauban, the Lot National Geological Reserve, and the association Les Phosphatières du Quercy. Three days were dedicated to oral presentations and poster sessions, while the fourth day featured a field trip to explore the renowned fossil sites of the “Phosphorites du Quercy” (Paleogene) and the Jurassic “Beach of Pterosaurs” in Crayssac.

The winner of this year’s PeerJ Award is Jérémy Tissier from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Brussels, for his outstanding presentation on the phylogeny and evolution of the oldest perissodactyls.

Bastien Mennecart (organiser)


Jérémy Tissier Postdoc at the Institute of Natural Sciences, Brussels, Belgium.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your research interests?

I am a palaeontologist specialized in vertebrate evolution, and I studied the early evolution of European rhinoceroses during my PhD at the Jurassica Museum and University of Fribourg (Switzerland). My current research interest at the Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels is the early diversification of perissodactyls, the group of ungulate mammals that includes the extant horses, tapirs and rhinoceroses. I find this subject particularly interesting because perissodactyls were extremely diverse in the past (from 56 million years ago until very recently) but are unfortunately very threatened with extinction today, particularly rhinoceroses and tapirs. It is therefore especially important to understand their evolutionary history before they disappear completely and to raise public awareness of this issue.

My project is called PERISSORIGIN – Origin and early radiation of perissodactyls based on precious fossil collections ( It is funded by the program BRAIN-be 2.0 of BELSPO (Belgian Science Policy Office) and is led by Thierry Smith.

What first interested you in this field of research?

I have always been fascinated by fossils and the evolution of life, particularly vertebrate animals. I believe that fossils and paleontology are crucial to comprehend the current biodiversity and its evolution. I am thus very interested in tracing the evolutionary history of vertebrates, as well as the evolution of their anatomy and their palaeobiogeographical history. I therefore concentrated on palaeontology, anatomy and phylogenetics during my studies, and I also have a keen interest in CT-scanning and tomography. X-ray tomography allows access to morphological features that would otherwise be inaccessible, which is particularly useful in paleontology! This was for example essential to observe the fossilised soft tissues of Phosphotriton, a fossilised natural mummy of salamander from the Eocene, that we described with a team in PeerJ. I have also used X-ray CT-scanning many times to extract the endocast of the inner ear of fossil rhinoceroses and other perissodactyls, which will enable us to resolve certain aspects of their phylogenetic relationships.

Can you briefly explain the research you presented at APF 2024?

At the APF 2024 in Montauban I presented a first phylogeny of early perissodactyls that included around 100 species from the Eocene, based on a new morphological character’s matrix. This new phylogeny has revealed new relationships between early perissodactyls and has permitted to resolve the position of several species for the first time. It also suggests that Europe and North America had strong connections during the earliest Eocene (around 56 million years ago), because very closely related species were found on both continents at the same time.

A skull of perissodactyl from the Early Eocene

How will you continue to build on this research?

The next step will be to increase the taxonomic sampling as well as the number of characters to obtain a larger scale phylogeny of perissodactyls. This will permit to better understand the more recent evolutionary history and diversification of perissodactyls, as well as to better understand their palaeobiogeography. I will also soon participate to fieldwork in North America with a team of paleontologists and we hope to find new specimens of perissodactyls that date back to 56 million years ago, to better understand their early evolution.

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