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Martin Rücklin

Dr. M. (Martin) Rücklin, Research fellow, Senior researcher and joint group leader - Endless Forms


Email: martin.rucklin@naturalis.nl
Phone: +31 (0)71-7519247
Room number: Vondellaan 55
“I study the evolution and development of organ systems in deep time.”

I am a palaeobiologist interested in the evolution and development of life. Hypotheses from biological sciences propose that the evolution of life is driven towards increasing complexity by key innovations. As a model for this, the rise to dominance of jawed vertebrates over the jawless vertebrates has long been considered contingent on the origin of jaws and teeth and the evolution of the dermal skeleton. My team is working on "Deep-time evolution of vertebrate jaws and teeth" funded by a Vidi grant from NWO.


Scientific education

  • 2004-2008 PhD University Tübingen: Placoderms from the Frasnian Kellwasser facies of southern Morocco: osteology, phylogeny, taphonomy and palaeobiogeographical implications
  • 2000 Diplom Geology University Tübingen: Cranial osteology of the Late Devonian (Famennian) Dunkleosteus terrelli (Pisces: Placodermi, Arthrodira) from the Tafilalt (South Morocco)
  • 1996-2000 Graduate studies at the University of Tübingen
  • 1994-1996 Undergraduate studies in geology at the University of Tübingen


  • 2015-present Research fellow and permanent researcher Naturalis Leiden
  • 2013-2015 Postdoctoral researcher at Naturalis Leiden
  • 2013-present Visiting researcher at the University of Bristol
  • 2010-2012 NERC postdoc at the University of Bristol
  • 2008-2010 Marie-Curie Researcher at the University of Bristol
  • 2003-2006 Scientific employee at the State Museum of Natural History Karlsruhe (SMNK), DFG research project “Kellwasser arthrodires”
  • 2000-2002 Scientific trainee at the SMNK

Academic grants

  • 2015 Vidi grant from NWO: Deep-time evolution of vertebrate jaws and teeth
  • 2011 Nuffield Science Bursary
  • 2010-2012 NERC project. Named researcher. Grant holder Philip Donoghue and Emily Rayfield.
  • 2010 Nuffield Undergraduate Research Bursaries: Teeth before jaws?
  • 2008-2010 Marie-Curie project: Jaws evolve. Together with Philip Donoghue.
  • 2007 SYNTHESYS: research at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France
  • 2007 IGCP 491 travel grant to attend the Early vertebrates meeting in Uppsala, Sweden
  • 2003-2006 DFG research grant: PhD project. Named researcher, grant holder Prof. Eberhard Frey and Prof. Jobst Wendt
  • 2002 Von-Kettner-Stiftung travel grant, expedition to Southern Morocco
  • 2000 Universitätsbund Tübingen travel grant, excavations in Southern Morocco

Fieldwork (selection)

  • 2015 Silurian and Devonian of Vietnam
  • 1998-2015 Palaeozoic of Southern Morocco: Ten field-trips, first as participant and later on as head of the team, conference field-trip for the North African Vertebrate Palaeontology
  • 2003 Romania: Cretaceous of the Hateg-Basin
  • 2000 Iran: DFG-Project, Devonian of Iran 


Research interest

Jaws and teeth

Contrary to traditional hypotheses I demonstrated that the first teeth evolved in placoderms, the sister group to all living jawed vertebrates (Rücklin et al., 2012, 2014; Rücklin & Donoghue 2015). My results contradict the accepted model of the evolution of teeth. In collaboration with Philip Donoghue (University of Bristol) we reviewed hypotheses on the evolution and the development of teeth in deep-time (Donoghue & Rücklin, 2016).  In my current research I test hypotheses on the evolution of tooth replacement in jawed vertebrates, especially in osteichthyans. In my team we investigate the evolution of complexity using dental complexity as a model, we investigate the evolution of modularity of vertebrate jaws and the evolution of dental gene-regulation.

Model by Esben Horn (10TONS), scientific advice by Philippe Janvier, John Long and Martin Rücklin. Lanzendorf price of the SVP 2009.

Dermal skeleton

The evolution of dermal tissues and cell types, forming the craniofacial skeleton of many recent vertebrates including humans, is still controversial. We investigated the histology of the all-encompassing dermal skeleton in the first jawed vertebrates (Giles et al., 2013).

Function and ecology of the first vertebrates

Ontogenetic series of the first jaws with teeth reveal a development from teeth to cutting edges through wear. Through the reconstruction of occlusion patterns and stress-patterns using Finite Element Analysis we demonstrated a functional change during ontogeny, which also suggests an ecological change.

First plants

Collaboration with the lab of Brigitte Meyer-Berthaud (Montpellier) on the evolution of land plants started with fieldwork searching for the earliest plants in the Devonian of Morocco (Prestianni et al., 2012). Work on the development of first land plants in collaboration with the University of Münster and the Bristol University is ongoing.

Virtual Palaeontology

Applying micro-CT and synchrotron radiation X-ray tomography (SRXTM) enables non-destructive visualisation of the inside of fossils in very high resolution and makes it possible to study their development and histology (Rücklin et al., 2011, 2012, 2014). The use of tomography and virtual objects is important in science and outreach (Lautenschlager & Rücklin, 2014).


vertebrate palaeobiology, jaws and teeth, dermal skeleton, synchrotron radiation x-ray microtomography, tomography, evolution and development

Current research topics


  • Martin D. Brazeau, Imperial College London, UK
  • John A. Cunningham, University of Bristol, UK
  • Philip C. J. Donoghue, University of Bristol, UK
  • Zerina Johanson, Natural History Museum London, UK
  • Christian Klug, Universität Zürich, Switzerland
  • John Long, Flinders University, Australia
  • Carlos Martinez-Perez, University of Bristol, UK
  • Federica Marone, Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI), Villigen, Switzerland
  • Brigitte Meyer-Berthaud, AMAP, Montpellier, France
  • Mark Purnell, Leicester University, UK
  • Emily Rayfield, University of Bristol, UK
  • Michael K. Richardson, Leiden University
  • Marco Stampanoni, Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI), Villigen, Switzerland
  • Kate Trinajstic, Curtin University, Australia




  • Tomography and 3D visualization of (palaeo)biological tissues – Naturalis – 2015-present
  • Vertebrate evolution – Leiden University – 2013-present
  • Evolution and development course – Leiden University – 2013
  • Vertebrate Evolution and Palaeobiology – University of Bristol – 2011-2012
  • 3D imaging techniques – University of Bristol – 2009-2011
  • Frontiers in Earth Sciences – University of Bristol – 2009
  • Access to Bristol – University of Bristol – 2009-2011
Available student projects

Public outreach


Media coverage Nature article 2012 (selection)

Public outreach

British Science Festival Newcastle
September 2013 Event "Bodies of evidence"
Presentation, "hands-on" and discussion on: 
"The evolutionary origins of our pretty smile seen in rocks".
Organised and sponsored by: Palaeontological Association.