Eric Hilton Home Page

Eric J. Hilton

Professor; Chair, Natural Resources

Email: [[ehilton]]
Phone: (804) 684-7178
Interests: Comparative anatomy, systematics, and evolution of ray-finned fishes.
Office: Nunnally Hall 123/125
Section: Natural Resources

Curriculum Vitae

For more information on my current projects, publications, teaching, student mentoring, advisory service, and other activities, please review my CV: Download CV here.

  • B.S., cum laude (Wildlife Biology and Conservation), 1996. University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Advisor: T. K. Fuller.
  • M.S. (Organismic and Evolutionary Biology), University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 1999. Major academic advisor: W. E. Bemis.
  • Ph.D. (Organismic and Evolutionary Biology), University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 2002. Dissertation title: A contribution to the osteology and phylogenetic systematics of osteoglossomorph fishes. Dissertation committee: W. E. Bemis (Chair), E. L. Brainerd, P. L. Forey, L. Grande, & B. Kynard.
  • Postdoctoral Research Scientist. September 2002 to August 2004; September 2005 to August 2007. Geology. Geology Department, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago. Supervisor: L. Grande.
  • Postdoctoral Fellow. September 2004 to August 2005. Division of Fishes, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C. Supervisor: G. D. Johnson.
Research Interests

The primary focus of my research is the evolutionary biology of fishes. I use a multidisciplinary approach to study the evolution of fishes, drawing on the principles and techniques of comparative anatomy, developmental biology and ontogeny, genetics biogeography, histology, paleontology, and phylogenetic systematics. I am particularly interested in the morphological structure, emphasizing the skeleton, and evolution of a wide variety of groups of fossil and living fishes, especially (though not limited to!) the ray-finned fishes (Actinopterygii). I am interested in a wide range of taxonomic groups ranging from relatively basal forms to highly derived groups of fishes. Current and ongoing projects includes studies of skates and rays, paddlefishes, sturgeons, bowfins, bony-tongue fishes, ice fishes, wolffishes, cornet fishes, drums, cichlids, billfishes, and ocean sunfishes. I also have a deep interest in the history and bibliography of vertebrate biology generally, and the biography of historical figures in this field.

To complement my studies of the morphology and systematics of fishes, I am interested in comparative biology of fishes generally, including aspects of their ecology and life history. For example, I collaborate with students and other colleagues on studies of the diet, age and growth, and movements of freshwater, estuarine, and coastal fishes in the Chesapeake Bay region. I am also interested in the ecology of larval fishes, and have led and collaborated on studies of larval fish ingress and patterns of movements, including the collection and use of long-term time series to evaluate interannual variation at both the species and assemblage levels.

Finally, my interests in fish biology extend to the application of research to the management and conservation of fishes. I am the PI of the long running VIMS American Shad and River Herring Monitoring Program, which monitors the populations of American Shad (Alosa sapidissima), Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) and blueback herring (Alosa aestivalis) during the spawning runs in the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia. Annual sampling for this program includes collecting data on spawning run strength, biological characteristics of the catch, and age structure of the stocks. These data are provided to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission(VMRC) and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) for the management of these species.

Nunnally Ichthyology Collection at VIMS

I am the curator of the Nunnally Ichthyology Collection at VIMS, which houses significant holdings of fishes from Chesapeake Bay, deep-sea fishes of the western North Atlantic, and freshwater fishes from the south and central Appalachians. The collection supports VIMS’ mission of research, education, and advisory service by engaging a broad community of basic and applied research scientists worldwide, providing the foundation for graduate education and research, and inspiring the public by sharing the biodiversity of fishes and the research that is being done to gain a better understanding of the natural world.

Selected Publications

Reprints (both PDF and paper copies) of most papers are available – please contact me ( for copies. See my CV for a complete list of my publications.

  • Hilton, E.J., & L. Gr 2022. Late Cretaceous sturgeons (Acipenseridae) from North America, with two new species from the Tanis site in the Hell Creek Formation of North Dakota. Journal of Paleontology; pages 1-20. doi: 10.1017/jpa.2022.81
  • McGrath, P.E., B.E Watkins, A Magee, & J Hilton. 2022. Patterns of hatchery-produced returns of American Shad, Alosa sapidissima, in the James River, Virginia. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 42: 906–914.
  • Corso, A.D., D.K. Steinberg, S.E. Stammerjohn, & J. Hilton. 2022. Climate drives long-term dynamics in Antarctic Silverfish along the Antarctic Peninsula. Communications Biology 5, 104 (2022).
  • Hilton, E.J., B. Dillman, M. Paraschiv, & R. Suciu. 2022. Cranial morphology of the Stellate Sturgeon, Acipenser stellatus Pallas 1771 (Acipenseriformes, Acipenseridae), with notes on the skulls of other sturgeons. Acta Zoologica (Stockholm) 103(1): 57–77. [cover article].
  • Martin, J. & J. Hilton. 2021. A taxonomic review of the family Trachipteridae (Lampridiformes), with an emphasis on taxa distributed in the Western Pacific Ocean. Zootaxa 5039 (3): 301–351.
  • Hilton, E.J.,J. Watkins-Colwell, & S.K. Huber. 2021. The expanding role of natural history collections. Ichthyology & Herpetology 109: 379–391.
  • Roa-Varón, A., R. Dikow, G. Carnevale, C. Baldwin, L. Tornabene, C. Li, & J. Hilton. 2021. Confronting sources of systematic error to resolve historically contentious relationships: a case study using gadiform fishes (Teleostei, Paracanthopterygii, Gadiformes. Systematic Biology 70: 739–755
  • Hilton, E.J., Grande, & J. Fan. 2021. Redescription of †Yanosteus longidorsalis Jin et al. 1995 (Chondrostei: Acipenseriformes: †Peipiaosteidae) from the Early Cretaceous of China. Journal of Paleontology 95:170-183.
  • Bemis, K.E., J.C. Tyler, J. Hilton & W.E. Bemis. 2021. Overview of the anatomy of Ocean Sunfishes (Tetraodontiformes: Tetraodontoidea: Molidae). Pages 55-71 in The Ocean Sunfishes: Evolution, Biology and Conservation T. Thys, G. Hays & J. Houghton, editors. CRC Press, Boca Raton.
  • Rizzato, P.P., A. Pospíšilova, J. Hilton, & F.A. Bockmann. 2020. Development and homology of bones associated with lateral-line canals in the Senegal Bichir, Polypterus senegalus (Cladistii: Polypteriformes), with a discussion about the interrelationships between lateral-line canals and bone formation in the skull of fishes. Journal of Anatomy 237: 439-467.
  • Vaz, D.F.B., &J. Hilton. 2020. The caudal skeleton of Batrachoidiformes (Percomorphacea: Teleostei): A study of morphological diversity, intraspecific variation and phylogenetic inferences. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 189: 228-286.
  • Hilton, E.J., E. Stevenson, & A.C. Matarese. 2019. Osteology of Ronquilus jordani (Zoarcoidei: Bathymasteridae), with a discussion of the developmental osteology and systematics of bathymasterid fishes. Acta Zoologica 100: 389-407.
  • Hilton, E.J., P. Warth, & P. Konstantinidis. 2019. The morphology, development, and evolution of the head of fishes: foundational studies for a renaissance of comparative morphology. Acta Zoologica. 100(3): 221-231. Simultaneously published online as an introductory paper for a virtual issue of Acta Zoologica, which electronically brings together 26 papers from the past 100 years of the journal. Available at:
  • Bemis, K.E., S.M. Burke, C.A. St. John, J., Hilton, & W.E. Bemis. 2019. Tooth development and replacement in the Atlantic Cutlassfish, Trichiurus lepturus, with comparisons to other Scombroidei. Journal of Morphology. 280: 78-94. [cover article]
  • Hilton, E.J., & S. Lavoué. Review of the systematic biology of fossil and living bony-tongue fishes, Osteoglossomorpha. Neotropical Ichthyology. e180031; 1-35.
  • Warth, P., J. Hilton, B. Neumann*, L. Olsson & P. Konstantinidis. 2018. Development of the muscles associated with the mandibular and hyoid arches in the Siberian sturgeon, Acipenser baerii. Journal of Morphology 279: 163–175.
  • Deary, A.L., R.J. Latour, & J. Hilton. 2017. Niche partitioning in early life history stage, estuarine-dependent fishes (Sciaenidae). Estuaries and Coasts. 40: 1757–1770.
  • Warth, P., P. Konstantinidis, B. Naumann*, L. Olsson, & J. Hilton. 2017. Description and comparison of cranial development of Siberian sturgeon (Acipenser baerii) and Russian sturgeon (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii). Journal of Morphology. 278:418-442.
  • Hilton, E. J., Kynard, M. Balazik, A. Horodysky, & C. B. Dillman. 2016. Review of the biology, fisheries, and conservation status of the Atlantic sturgeon, Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus Mitchill, 1815. Journal of Applied Ichthyology 32 (supplement 1): 30-66.
  • Hilton, E.J., & M.L. Crump. 2016. The American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists at 100: Setting the stage for the next hundred years. Copeia 104:952-964.
  • McGrath, P. E., J. Hilton, & J. A. Musick. 2016. Population demographics of longnose gar (Lepisosteus osseus), in the tidal tributaries of Chesapeake Bay. Copeia 103: 738-745.
  • Hilton, E.J.,B. Dillman, T. Zhang, L. Zhang, P. Zhuang. 2016. The skull of the Chinese sturgeon, Acipenser sinensis (Acipenseridae). Acta Zoologica 97: 419-432.
  • Sweetser, P.W., & J. Hilton. 2016. Osteology of the Crescent Gunnel, Pholis laeta and the systematics of the family Pholidae (Cottiformes, Zoarcoidei). Journal of Fish Biology 89: 1666-1691.
  • Clardy, T.R., & J. Hilton. 2016. Osteology of the prickleback genus Xiphister (Cottiformes, Zoarcoidei: Stichaeidae). Acta Zoologica 97:211–231.
  • Deary, A.L., & J. Hilton. 2016. Comparative ontogeny of the feeding apparatus of drums (Perciformes: Sciaenidae) from the Chesapeake Bay. Journal of Morphology 277:183–195.
  • Hilton, E. J., K. Schnell, & P. Konstantinidis. 2015. When tradition meets technology: systematic morphology of fishes in the early 21st century. Copeia 103: 858-873.
  • Ribeiro, F., *E. Hale, *T. R. Clardy, *A. L. Deary, J. Hilton, T. E. Targett, & J. E. Olney. 2015. Composition and temporal patterns of larval fish ingress in Chesapeake and Delaware Bays. Marine Ecology Progress Series 527:167-180.
  • Schnell, N. K., & J. Hilton. 2015. Ontogeny and osteology of the wrymouths, Cryptacanthodidae (Zoarcoidei), with discussion of their systematic position. Journal of Morphology 276: 185-208. [cover article]
  • Hilton, E.J., & G. R. Smith. 2014. The American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists as an advocacy group: The Green River poisoning of 1962. Copeia 2014: 577-591.
  • Hilton, E. J., Konstantinidis, N. K. Schnell, & C. B. Dillman. 2014. Identity of a unique cartilage in the buccal cavity of gars (Neopterygii: Lepisosteiformes: Lepisosteidae). Copeia 2014: 50-55. [Awarded Best Paper in Ichthyology, Copeia, 2014]
  • McGrath, P. E., J. Hilton, & J. A. Musick. 2013. Temporal and spatial effects on the diet of an estuarine piscivore, longnose gar (Lepisosteus osseus). Estuaries and Coasts 36: 1292-1303.
  • Hilton, E. J., & D. Stevenson. 2013. Osteology of the Prowfish, Zaprora silenus (Cottiformes: Zoarcoidei: Zaproridae). Journal of Morphology 274: 1143-1163.
  • McGrath, P. E., J. Hilton, & J. A. Musick. 2012. Seasonal distributions and movements of longnose gar (Lepisosteus osseus) within the York River System, Virginia. Southeastern Naturalist 11: 375–386.
  • Latour, R. J., J. Hilton, *P. D. Lynch, T. D. Tuckey, B. E. Watkins, & J. E. Olney. 2012. Evaluating the current status of American shad (Alosa sapidissima) stocks in Virginia. Marine and Coastal Fisheries: Dynamics, Management, and Ecosystem Science 4: 302-311.
  • McGrath, P. & J. Hilton. 2012. Sexual dimorphism in longnose gar (Lepisosteus osseus) from tidal rivers of Virginia. Journal of Fish Biology 80: 335–345.
  • Dillman, C. B., & E. J. Hilton. 2011. The cause and effect of polarization: thoughts on the “morphological vs. molecular debate” in systematics, with examples from the study of sturgeons (Actinopterygii: Acipenseridae). Zootaxa 2945: 79-117.
  • Hilton, E. J., L. Grande, & W. E. Bemis. 2011. Skeletal anatomy of the shortnose sturgeon, Acipenser brevirostrum Lesueur 1818, and the systematics of sturgeons (Acipenseriformes, Acipenseridae). Fieldiana (Life and Earth Sciences) 3:1-168.
  • Hilton, E. J. 2011. Bony fish skeleton. Pages 434-448 in Encyclopedia of Fish Physiology: From Genome to Environment, volume 1, Farrell A. P. (ed.). Academic Press, San Diego.
  • Hilton, E. J., G. D. Johnson, & W. F. Smith-Vaniz. 2010. Osteology and systematics of Parastromateus niger (Perciformes: Carangidae), with comments on the carangid dorsal gill-arch skeleton. Copeia 2010:312-333.
  • Hilton, E. J. & R. Britz. 2010. The caudal skeleton of osteoglossomorph fishes, revisited: comparisons, homologies, and characters. Pages 219-237 in Origin and phylogenetic interrelationships of teleosts. J. S. Nelson, H.-P. Schultze & M. V. H. Wilson (eds.). Verlag Dr. Friedrich Pfeil, München, Germany.
  • Hilton, E. J. 2009. Osteology of the graveldiver, Scytalina cerdale (Perciformes: Zoarcoidei: Scytalinidae). Journal of Morphology 270:1475–1491.
  • Hilton, E. J. & G. D. Johnson. 2007. When two equals three: developmental osteology and homology of the caudal skeleton in carangid fishes (Perciformes: Carangidae). Evolution and Development 9: 178-189.
  • Grande, L. & E. J. Hilton. 2006. An exquisitely preserved skeleton representing a primitive sturgeon from the Upper Cretaceous Judith River Formation of Montana (Acipenseriformes: Acipenseridae: n. gen. and sp.). Journal of Paleontology, Memoir 65, supplement to 80(4): 1-39.
  • Hilton, E. J. 2003. Comparative osteology and phylogenetic systematics of fossil and living bony-tongue fishes (Actinopterygii, Teleostei, Osteoglossomorpha). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 137: 1-100.
  • Hilton, E. J. 2002. Osteology of the extant North American fishes of the genus Hiodon Lesueur 1818 (Teleostei: Osteoglossomorpha: Hiodontiformes). Fieldiana (Zoology), new series 100: 1-142.
  • Hilton, E. J. & W. E. Bemis. 1999. Skeletal variation in shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum) from the Connecticut River: implications for comparative osteological studies of fossil and living fishes. Pages 69-94 in Mesozoic Fishes 2 - Systematics and Fossil Record. G. Arratia & H.-P. Schultze (eds.). Verlag Dr. Friedrich Pfeil, München, Germany.