Curatorial and staff research endeavors have always been intimately tied to the collections that they made. Much of our early collection research effort was derived from the active field programs of the curatorial staff. Seth E. Meek (1897-1914) pioneered the study of Neotropical freshwater fishes.
Loren P. Woods (1941-1978; left in image of Coelacanth [FMNH 76057]) published on and amassed large and important collections of marine fishes from the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. Karel Liem (1968-1972; center in Coelacanth image) was an associated fish researcher in the Division of Vertebrate Anatomy who did his pioneering work on experimental functional morphology on leaf fishes while at The Field Museum. Robert K. Johnson (1972-1986) focused his research and collection efforts on mesopelagic fishes and shorefishes from Belize and Honduras. Donald J. Stewart (1978-1985) and Barry Chernoff (1987-2002) rejuvenated the Museum's early Neotropical focus, publishing on diverse groups ranging from silversides to armored catfishes and tetras. Leo Smith's (2007-2013) research program focused on the evolutionary biology of marine and freshwater fishes. In particular, he focused on the evolution of anatomical and behavioral specializations associated with the evolution of venom, bioluminescence, feeding, and mating. Mark Westneat's (1991-2013) research program focused on marine and freshwater fishes, the biomechanics of feeding, locomotion and respiration, and the synthesis of evolutionary trees with biomechanical traits.
Caleb McMahan's (2014-present) research program focuses on Neotropical freshwater fishes, systematics, taxonomy, and historical biogeography. Ongoing work addresses the systematics and phylogeography of Middle American fishes (particularly cichlids), large-scale historical biogeography of neotropical fishes, and patterns of body shape evolution and ecomorphology.