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Research at the National History Museum of Los Angeles von Jaime Villafaña
am 14. April 2020
ungefähr 3 Minuten
Themen: Going abroad , International , research

Research at the National History Museum of Los Angeles

Teeth, dental plates and caudal spines: Jaime Villafaña is a PhD student of Natural Sciences at the University of Vienna and spent two weeks at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles with the Short-term grants abroad (KWA) scholarship to study fossils of fishes.

📌 Applications for short-term grants abroad (KWA) are currently possible! Next  application deadline: May 15, 2020. The International Office recommends planning your stay abroad from July 2020 at the earliest, or even better starting from winter semester 2020/21. To plan your upcoming research stay, please note the travel information on the website of the Ministry of European and International Affairs.


For my PhD at the University of Vienna thesis I work with the fossil record of cartilaginous fishes – sharks, rays, skates and chimaeras. The idea behind? Getting to know the diversity of this group in the past (I am talking about the real past, the Neogene happened 23 to 2.6 Million years ago!) and evaluate the possible reason of the extinction of some species. The aim is to analyze the evolutionary history of Neogene cartilaginous fishes from the Mediterranean Sea in relation to climatic changes and compare the results with others regions (e.g. North America). Some examples of cartilaginous fishes living today are the Great White Shark (carcharodon carcharias), one of the top predator, and the Whale shark, the world’s largest fish, that can grow up to 18 metres long.

Jaime Villafaña at the
Jaime Villafaña at the National History Museum of Los Angeles. © Jaime Villafaña

In the past, parts of Central Europe were covered by sea (Paratethys sea) and we have evidence (fossil) of cartilaginous fishes living as well in Austria. This and the Evolutionary Morphology Research Group (EvoMoRG) at the Department of Palaeontology is the reason why the University of Vienna is a great place to study cartilaginous fishes. For my research I spent two weeks at the National History Museum of Los Angeles (NHMLA) with the short-term grant abroad (KWA) offered by the International Office of the University of Vienna – this was an amazing experience! The NHMLA houses a very important and large collection (world-famous Sharktooth Hill locality) of Neogene cartilaginous fishes, ~ 6,800 specimens from over 300 localities.



fossil record of cartilaginous fishes
Topic of research: Fossils of fishes. © Jaime Villafaña

My workdays between teeth, dental plates and caudal spines

The people at the museum were very friendly and they were always trying to help me if I needed something. In a normal day, I started around 9 am until 5-6 pm. The first days, I made a general revision of the total number of specimens. After this, I started with the specific revision of fossils, separated by localities and age. During this research visit, I checked in total more than 9000 specimens of cartilaginous fishes, including teeth, dental plates and caudal spines.

What’s next?

This project provided me the opportunity to develop new comparative analyses at regional and global scales. Thus, the revision of this material contributed greatly to the development of my PhD thesis and generates high-quality publications in the future (e.g. Paleobiology and Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology).

📌 Research around the globe! Master or PhD students who wish to carry out research abroad (laboratory work, field studies or research in archives, libraries, scientific collections, etc.) can apply for a short-term grant abroad (KWA) by the International Office of the University of Vienna and finance their research around the world.

Jaime Villafaña

Jaime Villafaña is a PhD student of Natural Sciences at the University of Vienna.

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