McGhee book

View George McGhee discussing his book "The Geometry of Evolution" on YouTube.

View George McGhee discussing "Limits in Evolution" at Cambridge University (England) in September, 2014:

EPS CE coverMcGhee CEE BookCover


  • B.S., North Carolina State University
  • M.S., University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
  • Ph.D., University of Rochester


Research Interests

On a very general level, my work in the field of paleontology is concentrated on the analysis of ancient ecosystems, and the evolution of life through time within this ecological context. For several years my research has involved both the empirical analysis of Late Devonian marine ecosystems, and the theoretical consideration of the ecology of multispecies evolution and extinction patterns. More recently I have been involved in testing various hypotheses of mass extinction: the ecology of massive ecosystem collapse. These hypotheses have included the hypothesis that global ecosystem collapse can be triggered by extraterrestrial causes (chiefly, asteroidal impact). morpho

 A second active field of my research concerns the analysis of the evolution and adaptive significance of organic form in nature using the analytic techniques of "theoretical morphology."  In theoretical morphology, the adaptive landscape concept is put into actual practice by creating hyperdimensional theoretical morphospaces that contain the spectrum of both real and nonexistent animal and plant morphologies.  Within this geometric continuum of possible morphologies we pose the question: "why has nature produced these morphologies and not those other, entirely possible but nevertheless nonexistent, morphologies?", an analytic technique that allows us to unravel why life has evolved the way that it has.

The figure shows a hypothetical adaptive landscape of morphologic combinations (x-y axes) versus fitness or the degree of adaptation (z-axis). Topographic highs represent adaptive morphologies that function well in natural environments (and therefore are selected for), and topographic lows represent unadaptive morphologies that function poorly in natural environments (and therefore are selected against).


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  • SELECTED PUBLICATIONS (this Millennium):
  • McGhee, G.R., 2019. CONVERGENT EVOLUTION ON EARTH: LESSONS FOR THE SEARCH FOR EXTRATERRESTRIAL LIFE.  Vienna Series in Theoretical Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, Cambridge (Mass), 317 pp.
  • McGhee, G.R., 2018. CARBONIFEROUS GIANTS AND MASS EXTINCTION: THE LATE PALEOZOIC ICE AGE WORLD.  Columbia University Press, New York, 304 pp.
  • McGhee, G.R., Hue, I., Dardaillon, J., and Pontarotti, P., 2018. A proposed terminology of convergent evolution. In: Pontarotti, P. (Ed.), ORIGIN AND EVOLUTION OF BIODIVERSITY, pp. 331-340. Berlin: Springer International Publishing AG.
  • McGhee, G.R., 2018. Limits on the possible forms of stone tools: A perspective from convergent biological evolution.  In: O'Brien, M.J., Buchanan, B., and Eren, M.I. (Eds.), CONVERGENT EVOLUTION IN STONE-TOOL TECHNOLOGY, pp. 23-46. Vienna Series in Theoretical Biology, MIT Press, Cambridge (Mass).
  • McGhee, G.R., 2016. Can evolution be directional without being teleological?  Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 58: 93-99.
  • McGhee, G.R., 2015. Limits in the evolution of biological form: A theoretical morphologic perspective.  Interface Focus 5: 1-6; 20150034.
  • McGhee, G.R., 2014. The Late Devonian (Frasnian/Famennian) mass extinction: A proposed test of the glaciation hypothesis.  Geological Quarterly 58: 263-268.
  • McGhee, G.R., 2014. The search for sedimentary evidence of glaciation during the Frasnian/Famennian (Late Devonian) biodiversity crisis.  Sedimentary Record 12(2): 4-8.
  • McGhee, G.R., Clapham, M.E., Sheehan, P.M., Bottjer, D.J., and Droser, M.L., 2013. A new ecological-severity ranking of major Phanerozoic biodiversity crises.  Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 370: 260-270.
  • Starcher, R.W. and McGhee, G.R., 2013. Theoretical morphology of colonial meshworks in the Fenestrata (Bryozoa): Modelling hydraulic-resistance constraints and minimum fenestrule widths.  Historical Biology 25: 201-222.
  • McGhee, G. R., 2013. WHEN THE INVASION OF LAND FAILED: THE LEGACY OF THE DEVONIAN EXTINCTIONS.  Columbia University Press, New York, 317 pp.
  • McGhee, G.R., Sheehan, P.M., Bottjer, D.J., and Droser, M.L., 2012. Ecological ranking of Phanerozoic biodiversity crises: The Serpukhovian (Early Carboniferous) crisis had a greater ecological impact than the end-Ordovician.  Geology 40: 147-150..
  • McGhee, G.R., 2011. CONVERGENT EVOLUTION: LIMITED FORMS MOST BEAUTIFUL.  Vienna Series in Theoretical Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, Cambridge (Mass.), 322 pp.
  • McGhee, G.R., 2007. THE GEOMETRY OF EVOLUTION: ADAPTIVE LANDSCAPES AND THEORETICAL MORPHOSPACES.  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (England), 212 pp.
  • Raup, D.M, McGhee, G.R., and McKinney, F.K., 2006. Source code for theoretical morphologic simulation of helical colony form in the Bryozoa: Palaeontologia Electronica, v. 9, p. 15.;
  • McGhee, G.R. and Starcher, R.W., 2006. Geometric models of lophophore shape and arrangement in extinct modular organisms.  Journal of Paleontology 80: 1227-1228.
  • McGhee, G.R., 2005. Modelling Late Devonian extinction hypotheses, in Over, D.J. et al., eds., UNDERSTANDING LATE DEVONIAN AND PERMIAN-TRIASSIC BIOTIC AND CLIMATIC EVENTS.  Elsevier B.V., Amsterdam, p. 37-50.
  • McGhee, G.R., Sheehan, P.M., Bottjer, D.J., and Droser, M.L., 2004. Ecological ranking of Phanerozoic biodiversity crises: Ecological and taxonomic severities are decoupled.  Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 211: 289-297.
  • Starcher, R.W. and McGhee, G.R., 2003. Fenestrate graptolite theoretical morphology: Geometric constraints on lophophore shape and arrangement in extinct hemichordates.  Journal of Paleontology 77: 360-367.
  • McGhee, G.R. and McKinney, F.K., 2002. A theoretical morphologic analysis of ecomorphologic variation in Archimedes helical colony form.  Palaios 17:556-570.
  • McGhee, G.R., 2001. The "multiple impacts hypothesis" for mass extinction: A comparison of the Late Devonian and the late Eocene.  Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 176: 47-58.
  • McGhee, G.R., 2001. The question of spiral axes and brachiopod shell growth: A comparison of morphometric techniques.  Paleobiology 27: 716-723.
  • McGhee, G.R., 2001. Exploring the spectrum of existent, nonexistent and impossible biological form.  Trends in Ecology and Evolution 16: 172-173.
  • McGhee, G.R. and McKinney, F.K., 2000. A theoretical morphologic analysis of convergently evolved erect helical colony form in the Bryozoa.  Paleobiology 26: 556-577.
  • Droser, M.L., Bottjer, D.J., Sheehan, P.M., and McGhee, G.R., 2000. Decoupling of taxonomic and ecologic severity of Phanerozoic marine mass extinctions.  Geology 28: 675-678.
  • Starcher, R.W. and McGhee, G.R., 2000. Fenestrate theoretical morphology: Geometric constraints on lophophore shape and arrangement in extinct Bryozoa.  Paleobiology 26: 116-136.
  • SELECTED PUBLICATIONS (last Millennium):
  • McGhee, G.R., 1999. THEORETICAL MORPHOLOGY: THE CONCEPT AND ITS APPLICATIONS.  Columbia University Press, New York, 316 pp.
  • McGhee, G.R., 1997. Late Devonian bioevents in the Appalachian Sea: Immigration, extinction, and species replacements, in Brett, C.E. and Baird, G.C, eds., PALEONTOLOGICAL EVENTS: STRATIGRAPHIC, ECOLOGICAL, AND EVOLUTIONARY IMPLICATIONS.  Columbia University Press, New York, p. 493-508.
  • McGhee, G.R., 1996. THE LATE DEVONIAN MASS EXTINCTION.  Columbia University Press, New York, 303 pp.
  • McGhee, G.R., 1995. Geometry of evolution in the biconvex Brachiopoda: Morphological effects of mass extinction.  Neues Jahrbuch fuer Geologie und Palaeontologie, Abhandlungen 197: 357-382.
  • McGhee, G.R., 1994. Comets, asteroids, and the Late Devonian mass extinction.  Palaios 9: 513-515.
  • McGhee, G. R., Bayer, U., and Seilacher, A., 1991. Biological and evolutionary responses to transgressive-regressive cycles, in Einsele, G., et al., eds., CYCLES AND EVENTS IN STRATIGRAPHY.  Springer-Verlag, Berlin, p. 696-708.
  • McGhee, G.R., 1988. The Late Devonian extinction event: Evidence for abrupt ecosystem collapse.  Paleobiology 14: 250-257.
  • McGhee, G.R., Orth, C.J., Quintana, L.R., Gilmore, J.S., and Olsen, E.J., 1986. Late Devonian "Kellwasser Event" mass-extinction horizon in Germany: No geochemical evidence for a large-body impact.  Geology 14: 776-779.
  • Bayer, U. and McGhee, G.R., 1986. Cyclic patterns in the Paleozoic and Mesozoic: Implications for time scale calibrations.  Paleoceanography 1:383-402.
  • McGhee, G.R., Gilmore, J.S., Orth, C.J., and Olsen, E.J., 1984. No geochemical evidence for an asteroidal impact at Late Devonian mass extinction horizon.  Nature 308: 629-631.
  • Bayer, U. and McGhee, G.R., 1984. Iterative evolution of Middle Jurassic ammonite faunas.  Lethaia 17:1-16.
  • McGhee, G.R., 1982. The Frasnian-Famennian extinction event: A preliminary analysis of Appalachian marine ecosystems, in Silver, L.R. and Schultz, P.H., eds., GEOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS OF IMPACTS OF LARGE ASTEROIDS AND COMETS ON THE EARTH.  Geological Society of America Special Paper 190: 491-500.
  • McGhee, G.R., 1981. The Frasnian-Famennian extinctions: A search for extraterrestrial causes.  Bulletin of the Field Museum of Natural History 52(7): 3-5.
  • McGhee, G.R. and Sutton, R.G., 1981. Late Devonian marine ecology and zoogeography of the central Appalachians and New York.  Lethaia 14: 27-43.
  • McGhee, G.R., 1981. Evolutionary replacement of ecological equivalents in Late Devonian benthic marine communities.  Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 34: 267-283.
  • McGhee, G.R., 1980. Shell form in the biconvex articulate Brachiopoda: A geometric analysis.  Paleobiology 6: 57-76.
  • McGhee, G.R., 1978. Analysis of the shell torsion phenomenon in the Bivalvia.  Lethaia 11: 315-329.
  • McGhee, G.R., 1976. Late Devonian benthic marine communities of the central Appalachian Allegheny Front.  Lethaia 9: 111-136.