Eric Hilton Home Page

Eric J. Hilton


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

  • B.S., University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Ph.D., University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D. C.
  • Postdoctoral Research Scientist, The Field Museum, Chicago
Research Interests

Evolution and Morphology of Fishes

The main focus of my research program is the evolutionary biology of fishes. I am particularly interested in the morphological structure (emphasizing the skeleton) and evolution of a wide variety of groups of fossil and living ray-finned fishes (Actinopterygii), ranging from relatively basal forms, such as sturgeons, to highly derived groups of percomorph fishes. I use a multidisciplinary approach to study the evolutionary history of fishes, drawing on the principles and techniques of comparative anatomy, developmental biology, biogeography, histology, paleontology, and phylogenetic systematics. I have recently added the use of molecular data to complement morphology for better understanding the evolution of fishes.

Larval Fishes

Since coming to VIMS in 2007, I have become increasingly interested in the biology of larval fishes. I use an ontogenetic approach to much of the descriptive and comparative research that I conduct on the morphology and systematics of fishes. I have also become interested in the ecology of larval fishes, and am involved in an ongoing study of the timing, abundance, and potential physical mechanisms of ichthyoplankton ingress into Chesapeake and Delaware Bays (specifically targeting Atlantic menhaden, Atlantic croaker, summer flounder, and glass eel stage American eel).  This is a collaborative study with Drs. Tim Targett (University of Delaware), Elizabeth North (University of Maryland, Horn Point Laboratory) and Ed Houde (University of Maryland, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory) and others. It also serves as a platform for collecting specimens of a taxonomically broad sample of larval fishes.

American Shad Monitoring Program

Another relatively new aspect to my research program involves the population monitoring and stock assessment of American Shad in the Virginia tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay (co-PI, with Dr. Rob Latour). This program has established a 13-year time series of relative abundance indices of adult American shad during the spawning runs in the James, York and Rappahannock rivers. I also serve as the Virginia representative to the American Shad Technical Committee of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. 

VIMS Ichthyology Collection

I am in charge of the maintenance and growth of the Ichthyological 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. I have recently established a growing tissue collection matched to voucher specimens in our preserved fish collection. Please contact me if you wish to borrow material from VIMS or for any other inquiries about our holdings.

Selected Publications

Reprints (paper copy and PDF) of most papers are available – please contact me ( for copies.

  • 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.
  • Forey P. L. & E. J. Hilton. 2010. Two new Tertiary osteoglossid fishes (Teleostei: Osteoglossomorpha) with notes on the history of the family. Pages 215-246 in Fossil Fishes and Related Biota: Morphology, Phylogeny and Paleobiogeography – In Honor of Meemann Chang. D. Elliot, X. Yu, J. Maisey, & D. Miao (eds.). Verlag Dr. Friedrich Pfeil, München, Germany.
  • Damon-Randall, K., R. Bohl, S. Bolden, D. Fox, C. Hager, B. Hickson, E. Hilton, J. Mohler, E. Robbins, T. Savoy, & A. Spells. 2010. Atlantic sturgeon research techniques. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NE-215: 1-64.
  • 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. & P. L. Forey. 2009. Redescription of †Chondrosteus acipenseroides Egerton, 1858 (Acipenseriformes, Chondrosteidae) from the Lower Lias of Lyme Regis (Dorset, England), with comments on the early evolution of sturgeons and paddlefishes. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology 7: 427-453.
  • Hilton, E. J. & L. Grande. 2008. Fossil mooneyes (Teleostei, Hiodontiformes, Hiodontidae) from the Eocene of western North America, with a reassessment of their taxonomy. Pages 221-251 in Fishes and the Break-Up of Pangea. Cavin, L., A. Longbottom, & M. Richter (eds.). Geological Society of London, Special Publication 295.
  • Hilton, E. J., C. Cox Fernandes, J. P. Sullivan, J. G. Lundberg, & R. Campos-da-Paz. 2007. Redescription of Orthosternarchus tamandua (Boulenger, 1898) (Gymnotiformes, Apteronotidae), with reviews of its ecology, electric organ discharges, external morphology, osteology, and phylogenetic affinities. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 156:1-25.
  • 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.
  • Hilton, E. J., R. Britz, G. D. Johnson, & P. L. Forey. 2007. Clarification of the occipito-vertebral region of Arapaima gigas (Osteoglossomorpha: Osteoglossidae) through developmental osteology. Copeia 2007: 218-224.
  • 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. & L. Grande. 2006. Review of the fossil record of sturgeons, family Acipenseridae (Actinopterygii: Acipenseriformes), from North America. Journal of Paleontology 80: 672-683.
  • Hilton, E. J. & C. Cox Fernandes. 2006. Sexual dimorphism in Apteronotus bonapartii (Gymnotiformes: Apteronotidae). Copeia 2006: 826-833.
  • Hilton, E. J. 2005. Observations on the skulls of sturgeons (Acipenseridae): shared similarities of Pseudoscaphirhynchus kaufmanni and juvenile specimens of Acipenser stellatus. Environmental Biology of Fishes 72: 135-144.
  • Hilton, E. J. & P. L. Forey. 2005. Contributions of Walter G. Ridewood to systematic comparative anatomy, especially of the osteology of "lower" vertebrates. Journal of Natural History 39: 641-655.
  • Hilton, E. J. & N. J. Kley. 2005. Osteology of the quillfish, Ptilichthys goodei (Perciformes: Zoarcoidei: Ptilichthyidae). Copeia 2005: 571-585.
  • Hilton, E. J., L. Grande, & W. E. Bemis. 2004. Morphology of †Coccolepis bucklandi Agassiz, 1843 (Actinopterygii) from the Solnhofen lithographic limestone deposits (Upper Jurassic, Germany). Pages 209-238 in Mesozoic Fishes 3 - Systematics, Paleoenvironments and Biodiversity. G. Arratia & A. Tintori (eds.). Verlag Dr. Friedrich Pfeil, München, Germany.
  • Hilton, E. J. 2004. The caudal skeleton of Acipenseriformes (Actinopterygii: Chondrostei): recent advances and new observations. Pages 599-617 in Recent Advances in the Origin and Early Radiation of Vertebrates. G. Arratia, M. V. H. Wilson, & R. Cloutier (eds.). Verlag Dr. Friedrich Pfeil, München, Germany.
  • 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. 2001. Tongue-bite apparatus of osteoglossomorph fishes: variation of a character complex. Copeia 2001: 372-381.
  • 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.
Current Students and Post-doctoral Fellows
  • Kate Bemis (MS)
  • Diego Biston Vaz (Ph.D.)
  • Andrew Corso (MS)
  • Adela Roa-Varón (Ph.D); Systematics and morphology of gadiform fishes, with an emphasis on the grenadiers (Macrouridae)
Lab Alumni
  • Dr. Patrick McGrath (Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School); Life history of the longnose gar in the Chesapeake Bay
  • Dr. Filipe Ribeiro; Larval fish ecology and ingress in the Chesapeake Bay
  • Dr. Nalani Schnell; Morphology of larval fishes; Osteology of wrymouths (Cryptacanthodidae)
Courses Taught/Teaching
  • MSCI 666 Systematic Ichthyology

  • MSCI 506 Scientific Communication

  • MSCI 698 Cladistics

  • MSCI 698 Scientific Illustration and Manuscript Preparation

Professional Memberships and Academic Affiliations
  • American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists
  • The Linnean Society of London
  • World Sturgeon Conservation Society
  • Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections
  • Sigma Xi
  • Research Associate, The Field Museum, Geology Department