Tyler Lyson, PhD

Dr. Tyler Lyson studies fossil vertebrates, particularly dinosaurs and turtles. He is especially interested in the evolution of body plans and extinction patterns of different groups across major extinction events. 

In his research, Dr. Lyson integrates molecular, developmental, and morphological data from living and fossil organisms all within an evolutionary tree-based context to address complex paleobiological and paleoecological problems, including the evolution of body plans, niche partitioning in dinosaurs, and extinction patterns through time.

  • POSITIONCurator of Vertebrate Paleontology
  • EXPERTISE Evolution, Turtles, Dinosaurs
  • PhD

    Yale University

  • PHONE NUMBER 303.370.6328
  • EMAILTyler.Lyson@dmns.org


  • 1

    Lyson, T. R., Schachner, E. R., Botha-Brink, J., Scheyer, T. M., Lambertz, M., Bever, G. S., Rubidge, B., de Queiroz, K. 2014. Origin of the novel lung ventilatory apparatus of turtles. Nature Communications.

  • 2

    Lyson, T. R., Bever, G. S., Scheyer, T. M., Hsiang, A. Y., & Gauthier, J. A. 2013. Evolutionary origin of the turtle shell. Current Biology 23:1-7. 

  • 3

    For North Dakota paleontologist, it all started with a turtle. Interview in the New York Times. (2012).

  • 4

    The Day the Mesozoic Died. Howard Hughes Medical Institute documentary.

  • 5

    Lamanna M. C., Sues H. D., Schachner E. R., Lyson T. R. 2014. A New Large-Bodied Oviraptorosaurian Theropod Dinosaur from the Latest Cretaceous of Western North America. PLOS ONE



Who turtles are related to (birds/crocodiles, lizards, or lizards/birds/crocodiles) has remained one of the most vexing problems in evolutionary biology. The origin of turtles has become a classic morphology versus molecular problem, where morphology suggests one particular relationship while molecular data suggests another. Dr. Tyler Lyson’s research integrates novel molecular data with new morphological datasets that includes critical fossil species to address this difficult question. ​


The turtle, with their toothless beaks, skulls without any temporal openings, and ribs locked into their hulking shell, has one of the most distinctive and bizarre body plans of any animal. Dr. Tyler Lyson’s research focuses on filling in the fossil gaps between when turtles first diverged from other reptiles with a lizard-like body plan around 270 million years ago to when these features most characteristic of turtles evolved in the earliest shelled turtle at 210 million years ago. Through collaborative field work with Dr. Bruce Rubidge at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, Dr. Lyson hopes to fill in the morphological gap between the lizard-like body plan and the highly modified body plan found in living turtles and to determine when, how, and why each of these distinctive morphological features arose. 

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