Peter  Konstantinidis

Post-Doctoral Research Associate

Email: [[peterk]]
Phone: (804) 684-7285
Department: Fisheries Science


Postdoctoral Fellow 2010 – 2014. Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany.

Ph.D. in Comparative Zoology. 2010. The Natural History Museum, London, UK. Thesis: Evolution of complex morphological characters in Tetraodontiformes.

M.Sc. (Diploma) in Comparative Zoology. 2006. Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen, Germany. Thesis: The locomotor system of the Shortfin Mako, Isurus oxyrinchus.

Fields of Interest

My research interests are mainly in the early life history of fishes, and the evolution of complex morphological structures in actinopterygian fishes, and their influence for phylogenetic systematics. Building on my interest in the role of ontogeny and phylogenetic systematics, I am also interested in the contribution of the neural crest to the early development of the vertebrate head. Over time, I also became more involved in collections management of natural history collections.

Early Life History of Fishes

While at the Natural History Museum in London, I developed a strong interest in the early life history of larval fishes. I enjoyed the painstaking attention to detail involved in this type of work, and was greatly interested in how the identifying characteristics often differ between larval and adult fishes of the same species. I sorted and identified fishes from an extensive collection of Atlantic mesopelagic fishes that the museum inherited from the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences (IOS), UK. While sorting this collection, I became familiar with larval and adult fishes of the orders Anguilliformes, Stomiiformes, Aulopiformes, Myctophiiformes, Lampridiformes, Lophiiformes, and Beryciformes. In my position as a Marine Scientist at VIMS, I describe larval stages of fishes that are yet unknown. Among those are species of Antarctic families, such as Artedidraconidae and Bathydraconidae, and Liparidae, a more widespread family that also has over 200 representatives in the Southern Ocean.

My interest and expertise in the identification of larval fishes led to invitations to larval fish and taxonomic workshops in Japan and South Africa. At the National Museum of Science and Nature in Tokyo, I was asked to sort and identify specimens of a collection obtained from a larval tuna survey. Following my success in Tokyo, I was invited to a workshop initiated by the IUCN at the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB).

Comparative Anatomy and the Evolution of Fishes

Besides the beauty and the vast diversity of larval fishes that caught my eye, they also play a crucial role in comparative morphology and consequently in phylogenetic systematics. Anatomists in the 19th century, such as Ernst Haeckel and Karl Ernst von Baer discovered that the ontogeny of organisms provides information from their evolutionary history (recapitulation). Based on my interest in the evolution of fishes, I am analysing the anatomy and phylogenetic relationships of actinopterygian fishes, ranging from basal lineages such as sturgeons, gars, and bowfins, up to highly derived taxa such as puffers and their relatives. However, my main interest is deep-sea fishes. As examples of my current projects, I am working with G. David Johnson from the Smithsonian on the astonishing anatomical metamorphosis of the two species of telescopefishes of the genus Gigantura (G. chuni and G. indica). In a collaborative work with James Maclaine, from the Natural History Museum in London, UK, I am analysing the osteological development of the ragfish, Icosteus aenigmaticus, in order to understand the phylogenetic relationship. Icosteus is placed in its monotypic family and its relationship within acanthomorph fishes remains obscure.

For the analysis of the skeletal elements, I use clearing & staining as the preferred method, and for soft tissue, i.e. musculature and nerves, I use innovative state-of-the-art methods, such as whole-mount immunohistochemical methods, confocal microscopy, microtomography, and histology. 

Collections Management and curatorial work

At the Natural History Museum in London, I worked closely with the curators of the ichthyology collection, Oliver Crimmen and James Maclaine, who also introduced me to database use and cataloguing systems of the Natural History Museum. I became involved in maintenance and care of the collection, helped to correct misidentified specimens, and identified species of the Southeast Asia freshwater collection. In my time as a postdoctoral fellow at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, I continued to work in the collection of the Ernst Haeckel Museum. My duties in the collection included cataloguing specimens, sorting out the specimens that Ernst Haeckel collected and featured in his books, as well as conducting routine maintenance, such as replacing jars and rehydrating specimens.

At VIMS, I actively collect representative specimens of early life history stages of basal actinopterygian taxa, in order to conduct research and contribute to the improvement of the collection with multiple series of basal actinopterygians that I incorporate and catalogue. For all new material that I provide for the collection, I also take tissue samples. I have spent a substantial amount of time in the field to collect early life history stages of bowfins and gars. I also assist with long-term surveys for shad, blue back herring, sturgeon, and larval fishes.


Donley, J. M., C. A. Sepulveda, P. Konstantinidis, S. Gemballa, and R. E. Shadwick. 2004. Convergent evolution in mechanical design of lamnid sharks and tunas. Nature 429:61-65.

Donley, J. M., R. E. Shadwick, C. A. Sepulveda, P. Konstantinidis, and S. Gemballa. 2005. Patterns of red muscle strain/activation and body kinematics during steady swimming in a lamnid shark, the shortfin mako (Isurus oxyrinchus). Journal of Experimental Biology 208:2377-87.

Gemballa, S., P. Konstantinidis, J. M. Donley, C. Sepulveda, and R. E. Shadwick. 2006. Evolution of high-performance swimming in sharks: transformations of the musculotendinous system from subcarangiform to thunniform swimmers. Journal of Morphology 267:477-493.

Harris, M. P., N. Rohner, H. Schwarz, S. Perathoner, P. Konstantinidis, and C. Nüsslein-Volhard. 2008. Zebrafish eda and edar Mutants Reveal Conserved and Ancestral Roles of Ectodysplasin Signaling in Vertebrates. Plos Genetics 4.

Hilton, E. J., P. Konstantinidis, N. K. Schnell, and C. B. Dillman. 2014. Identity of a unique cartilage in the buccal cavity of gars (Neopterygii: Lepisosteiformes: Lepisosteidae). Copeia 2014:50-55.

Hilton, E. J., N. K. Schnell, and P. Konstantinidis. 2015. When tradition meets technology: systematic morphology of fishes in the 21st century. Copeia. In press.

Konstantinidis, P., and K. W. Conway. 2010. The Median-Fin Skeleton of the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Clingfishes Lepadogaster lepadogaster (Bonnaterre) and Gouania wildenowi (Risso) (Teleostei: Gobiesocidae). Journal of Morphology 271:215-224.

Konstantinidis, P., and M. P. Harris. 2011. Same But Different: Ontogeny and Evolution of the Musculus adductor mandibulae in the Tetraodontiformes. Journal of Experimental Zoology Part B 316:10-20.

Konstantinidis, P., and G. D. Johnson. 2012. A Comparative Ontogenetic Study of the Tetraodontiform Caudal Complex. Acta Zoologica 93:98-114.

Konstantinidis, P., and G. D. Johnson. 2012. Ontogeny of the jaw apparatus and suspensorium of the Tetraodontiformes. Acta Zoologica 93:351-366.

Konstantinidis, P., P. Warth, B. Naumann, L. Olsson, B. D. Metscher, and E. J. Hilton. 2015. The Developmental pattern of the Musculature Associated with the Mandibular and Hyoid Arches in the Longnose Gar, Lepisosteus osseus. Copeia. In press.

Mongera, A., A. P. Sing, M. P. Levesque, Y. Y. Chen, P. Konstantinidis, and N.-V. C. 2013. Genetic lineage labeling in zebrafish uncovers novel neural crest contributions to the head, including gill pillar cells. Development 140:916 - 925.

Polgar, G., J. Zehaan, and P. Konstantinidis. 2013. A new species of mudskipper, Boleophtalmus poti (Teleostei: Gobiidae: Oxudercinae) from Papua New Guinea, and a key to the genus. The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology 61:311-321.