Javier Ortega-Hernández

Javier Ortega-Hernández

Assistant Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology
Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology
Javier Ortega-Hernandez

Faculty Support: Bridget Power

The main goal of my research is to better understand the substantial extinct biodiversity of invertebrate metazoans that first appeared and rapidly diversified during the Paleozoic Era, the period of time comprising between 541 and 251 million years ago. Most of our current work focuses on the study of several Lower Paleozoic sites of exceptional preservation around the world. These remarkable fossiliferous deposits contain critical information on the morphology and organization of soft-bodied organisms, including details of the internal anatomy, which are otherwise dramatically underrepresented in the rock record. Our group has a strong interest in the origin and subsequent radiation of Ecdysozoa (moulting animals) during the Cambrian Explosion and the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event, with emphasis on the morphology, phylogeny and development of extinct panarthropods – whose extant representatives include euarthropods, tardigrades and onychophorans. To this end, we combine traditional paleontological approaches with cutting edge techniques to obtain new morphological information from the fossils, test macroevolutionary hypotheses through deep time, and ultimately clarify the origin of the major animal groups that have shaped the biosphere for more than 500 million years.

Recent Publications

  • Ortega–Hernández, J. 2019.Exceptionally preserved Cambrian fossils in the genomic era. In Martín-Durán, J.M., and Vellutini, B. eds. “Old Questions and Young Approaches to Animal Evolution”. Fascinating Life Sciences. Springer, Cham. pp. 39-54.
  • Zhai, D., Ortega–Hernández, J., Wolfe, J. M., Hou, X.G., Cao, C.J., and Liu, Y. 2019. Three-dimensionally preserved appendages in an early Cambrian stem-group pancrustacean. Current Biology 29 (1): 171-177.
  • Lerosey-Aubril, R.. Gaines, R., Hegna, T. A., Ortega–Hernández, J., Van Roy, P., Kier, C., and Bonino, E. 2018. The Weeks Formation Konservat-Lagerstätte and the evolutionary transition of Cambrian marine life. Journal of the Geological Society 175: 705-715.
  • Ortega–Hernández, J., Fu, D., Zhang, X.-L. and Shu, D. 2018. Gut glands illuminate trunk segmentation in Cambrian fuxianhuiids. Current Biology 28 (4): R146-R147.
  • Ortega–Hernández, J., Janssen, R. & Budd, G.E. 2017. Origin and evolution of the panarthropod head – a palaeobiological and developmental perspective. Arthropod Structure and Development 46: 354-379.
  • Ortega–Hernández, J. 2016. Making sense of “lower” and “upper” stemgroup Euarthropoda, with comments on the strict use of the name Arthropoda von Siebold, 1848. Biological Reviews 91: 255573. 
  • Yang. J., Ortega–Hernández, J., Butterfield, N.J., Liu, Y., Boyan, G., Tian, L., Hou, J.B., & Zhang, X.-G. 2016. Fuxianhuiid ventral nerve cord and early nervous system evolution in Panarthropoda. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113: 29882993.
  • Ortega–Hernández, J. 2015. Homology of head sclerites in Burgess Shale euarthropods. Current Biology 25: 16251631.
  • Ortega–Hernández, J. 2015. Lobopodians. Current Biology 25: R873R875.
  • Yang, J., Ortega–Hernández, J. Gerber, S., Butterfield, N.J., Hou, JB. Tian, L. & Zhang, X.-G. 2015. A superarmored lobopodian from the Cambrian of China and early disparity in the evolution of Onychophora. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112: 86788683.  
  • Smith, M.R. & Ortega–Hernández, J. 2014. Hallucigenia’s onychophoranlike claws and the case for Tactopoda. Nature 514: 363366.
  • Yang, J., Ortega–Hernández, J., Butterfield, N.J., & Zhang. X.-G. 2013. Specialized appendages in fuxianhuiids and the head organization of early euarthropods. Nature 494: 468-471.

Contact Information

The Museum of Comparative Zoology Labs
26 Oxford Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
p: 617-495-2496


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