Geerat J. Vermeij

Dr. Geerat J. Vermeij
Inducted in 2008 for his pioneering contributions to evolutionary biology and paleontology, particularly for studying the role animals play in shaping each other’s evolutionary fates.
Dr. Vermeij, who was a faculty member in the Department of Zoology (now Biology) at the University of Maryland from 1971 until 1988, has made a career of studying the functional morphology of marine molluscs. Vermeij has been blind since the age of three, yet the use of his hands and other senses has allowed him to draw connections between predator-prey interactions and their effect on morphology, ecology, and evolution in ways that other scientists have not. Vermeij’s work has focused on these ecological interactions rather than environmental factors, like climate, as the drivers of change amongst species.

Through decades of careful experimentation through the observation of scars and repaired breaks on mollusk species, Dr. Vermeij and his colleagues found that ancient shells showed fewer repairs and recent shells showed more. Their research suggests that escape from predators has become a vital component of species survival over time. In risky habitats full of light and well-equipped predators, he documented morphological innovations in modern shells, noting changes that helped to protect a shell's inhabitant. Meanwhile, those species with more fragile shells and less adaptations, appeared to decline or have restricted ranges in places like the deep sea where modern, well-armed predators are less prevalent. Vermeij has conducted research all over the world including Guam, the Philippines, the Galapagos Islands, Canada, Hawaii, French Polynesia, Cabo San Lucas, California and New Zealand. Vermeij has also made major contributions to research on the movement of species between different marine environments after the removal of barriers, in various periods of geologic time.

Vermeij is also an accomplished writer with over 100 scientific papers and several books, including Evolution and Escalation: An Ecological History of Life, A Natural History of Shells, Nature: An Economic History, Biogeography and Adaptations: Patterns of Marine Life, and his autobiography Privileged Hands: A Scientific Life. He has also served as editor or associate editor of prestigious journals like Science, Evolution, and Paleobiology.

Dr. Vermeij has also been honored with numerous awards including the U.C. Davis Faculty Research Award in 2004, the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal by the National Academy of Sciences in 2000, the Paleontological Society Medal in 1997, a $280,000 MacArthur Fellowship Award in 1992, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1975.

He studied at both Princeton and Yale and is currently a Distinguished Professor of marine ecology and paleoecology in the Geography Department of the University of California, at Davis. He received his Ph.D. from Yale and was a faculty member in the Department of Zoology (now Biology) at the University of Maryland from 1971 until 1988. Dr. Vermeij is married to fellow scientist Edith Zipser. They have one daughter, Hermine.