Pieter Missiaen

Dr. Pieter Missiaen
Research Unit Palaeontology
Krijgslaan 281 S8
9000 Gent
Phone 	+3292644610 
Fax 	+3292644608
E-mail:	Pieter.Missiaen|at|

Current project

Pieter is currently working as an FWO postdoctoral fellow on a study of the ancestors, origins and basal relations of Perissodactyla (odd-toed ungulate mammals) in the frame of the events around the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum.

The order Perissodactyla or odd-toed ungulates contains three recent families: tapirs, rhinoceroses and, most famously, horses, a group that is of broad popular interest. However, perissodactyls are also of major scientific importance, and earlier in the Tertiary they formed a much larger and more diverse group with a total of 16 families, including Indricotherium, the largest terrestrial mammal ever.
Perissodactyls appear very abruptly at the beginning of the Eocene (55.8 Ma BP), simultaneously in North America, Europe and Asia. During this early period they had a thriving success, with at least 13 families present in the Eocene. Their abundance, diversity and fast evolution therefore makes them one of the most important groups for the biostratigrapy and paleobiogeograpy of Early Tertiary mammals. Nevertheless, their Paleocene ancestors and their region of origin are unknown, as well as their basal relations, i.e. how the different initial lineages of perissodactyls (stem groups) are related to one another.

Broader scientific framework and other research interests

The latest Cretaceous and the Paleogene period is of particular importance to mammals, because immediately after the K-P extinctions (65 Ma) mammals had an explosive radiation, rapidly filling new ecological niches and reaching a remarkable range of body sizes and morphological specialisations, and their radiation shows their obvious evolutionary success.
The Paleocene-Eocene Boundary (55 Ma) is however marked by the sudden appearance of the first modern mammal orders (Perissodactyla, Artiodactyla, Primates and hyaenodontid creodonts), followed closely by the appearance of most other orders of modern mammals later in the Eocene. However, this is also where more paleontological questions ariseā€¦ What are the phylogenetic and geographic origins of these modern groups? Why did they suddenly appear, and why were they so successful? Moreover, the research questions on the origin modern mammals are closely linked with the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). The PETM is a short-lived climate perturbation, during which temperatures worldwide increased 5-10°C in less than 10.000 years and then recovered again in about 100.000 years. Superimposed on an already warm background climate, the PETM was also the warmest period of the Cenozoic. Both the causes of this climatic event and its ecological and biogeographical effects on mammal faunas are still poorly known, but this event has already been proposed to represent an excellent analogue for understanding the current anthropogenic global change.

During his PhD, Pieter studied the Late Paleocene Subeng mammal fauna from Inner Mongolia. The study of this fauna allowed the description of four new taxa, as well as an better phylogenetic insight of many other taxa. Moreover, in the first integrated paleoenvironmental reconstruction ever made for the Asian Paleogene, the Subeng site was shown to represent an isolated woodland on the open, arid Mongolian Plateau, with important implications for our understanding of migration of Paleocene mammals between Asia and North America.

Pieter is actively involved in the exploration and study of the Early Eocene Vastan fauna in north-western India, that represents the oldest Tertiary vertebrate fauna from the Indian subcontinent. This study has already yielded the oldest lagomorphs (rabbits, hares and pikas) and an exceptional diversity of bats and primates. Other fossil groups are still under study, but already promise exciting new insights.

Other currently ongoing projects include a bilateral Sino-Belgian collaboration on the origin and paleoenvironment of the first modern mammals in eastern and southern China, a French-Belgian research convention for a synthetic study of Paleocene and Early Eocene vertebrate sites of the Paris Basin, and high resolution studies of vertebrate evolution across the Paleocene-Eocene Boundary in the Bighorn Basin.

Main scientific collaborations

This work on Paleogene mammals runs in close collaboration with the Pre-Quaternary Mammal Research Unit led by Dr. Thierry Smith at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels.

Pieters current postdoctoral project includes a one-year mobility stay with Prof. Dr. Philip D. Gingerich at the Paleontology Museum of the University of Michigan, with whom he also collaborated for fieldwork and study of the fossil mammals at Polecat Bench in the Bighorn Basin in Wyoming.
The fieldwork at the Vastan site was funded by the National Geographic Society by a grant to Prof. Dr. Kenneth D. Rose of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, with whom Pieter also collaborated for fieldwork at McDermott Butte in the Bighorn Basin in Wyoming.


  • Smith, T., Van Itterbeeck, J. & Missiaen, P. (2004). Oldest Plesiadapiform (Mammalia, Proprimates) of Asia and its paleobiogeographical implication with North America . Comptes Rendus Palevol 3, 43-52
  • Missiaen, P. & Smith, T. (2005). A new nyctitheriid insectivore from Inner Mongolia (China) and its implications for the origin of the Asian nyctitheriids. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 50, 513-522
  • Rose, K.D., Smith, T., Rana, R.S., Sahni, A., Singh, H. Missiaen, P. & Folie A. (2006). Early Eocene (Ypresian) continental vertebrate assemblage from India, with description of a new anthracobunid (Mammalia, Tethytheria). Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 26, 219-225
  • Missiaen, P., Smith, T., Guo, D.-Y., Bloch, J.I. & Gingerich, P.D. (2006). Asian Gliriform origin for arctostylopid mammals. Naturwissenschaften 93: 407-411
  • Van Itterbeeck, J., Missiaen, P., Folie, A., Markevich, V.S., Van Damme, D. Guo, D.-Y. & Smith, T. (2007). Woodland in a fluvio-lacustrine environment on the dry Mongolian Plateau during the late Paleocene: evidence from the mammal bearing Subeng section (Inner Mongolia, P.R. China). Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 243, 55-78.
  • Smith, T., Rana, R.S., Missiaen, P., Rose, K.D., Sahni, A., Singh, H. & Singh, L. (2007). High bat (Chiroptera) diversity in the Early Eocene of India. Naturwissenschaften 94: 1003-1009.
  • Rose, K.D., DeLeon, V.B., Missiaen, P., Rana R.S., Sahni, A., & Smith, T. (2008). Early Eocene Lagomorph (Mammalia) from Western India and the origin of Leporidae. Proceedings of the Royal Society-Biological sciences 275: 1203-1208.
  • Missiaen, P. & Smith, T. (2008). The Gashatan (late Paleocene) mammal fauna from Subeng, Inner Mongolia, China. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 53: 357-378.
  • Rose, K.D., Rana, R.S., Sahni, A., Kumar, K., Missiaen, P., Singh, L. & Smith, T. (2009). Early Eocene Primates from Gujarat, India. Journal of Human Evolution 56: 306-355.
  • Ladevèze, S., Missiaen, P. & Smith, T. (2010). First skull of Orthaspidotherium edwardsi (Mammalia, “Condylarthra”) from the late Paleocene of Berru (France) and phylogenetic affinities of the enigmatic European family Pleuraspidotheriidae. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 30: 1559-1578.
  • Missiaen, P. (2011). An updated mammal biochronology and biogeography for the early Paleogene of Asia. Vertebrata Palasiatica 49: 29-52.
  • Smith, T., Dupuis, C., Folie, A., Quesnel, F., Storme, J.-Y., Iacumin, P., Riveline, J., Missiaen, P., Ladevèze, S. & Yans, J. (2011). A new terrestrial vertebrate site just after the Paleocene-Eocene boundary in the Mortemer Formation of Upper Normandy, France. Comptes Rendus Palévol 10: 11-20.
  • Missiaen, P., Gunnell, G.F. & Gingerich, P.D. (accepted). New Brontotheriidae (mammalia, perissodactyla) from the early and middle Eocene of Pakistan, with implications for mammalian paleobiogeography. Journal of Paleontology.
  • Missiaen, P. & Gingerich, P.D. (accepted). New early Eocene tapiromorph perissodactyls from the Ghazij Formation of Pakistan, with implications for mammalian biochronology in Asia. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica.


  • Missiaen, P., Smith, T. & Van Itterbeeck, J. (2003). Subeng (Inner Mongolia, P.R. China), a new potential Late Paleocene reference-level for the mammals in Asia. Presented at ISPS Congres, Leuven 2003.
  • Missiaen, P. & Smith, T. (2004). The Late Paleocene site of Subeng ( Inner Mongolia, China): Completing and challenging mammal biogeography in Asia. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 24 (3, suppl) p. 95A. Presented at 64th Annual SVP Meeting, Denver 2004.
  • Missiaen, P., Guo, D.Y. & Smith, T. (2005). On foot(bones): The late Paleocene Asian arctostylopid mammal Palaeostylops and its liaison with the South American ungulates. Presented at II CLPV, Rio de Janeiro 2005.
  • Smith T., Yans, J., Missiaen, P., Folie, A. & Gingerich, P. (2006). A new North American earliest Eocene mammal zone at the beginning of the Carbon Isotope excursion. Presented at CBEP Meeting, Bilbao 2006.
  • Missiaen, P., Van Itterbeeck, J., Folie, A., Markevich, V.S., Van Damme, D. Guo, D.-Y. & Smith, T. (2006). The Subeng mammal site (Late Paleocene, China): evidence for a unique woodland on the dry Mongolian Plateau. Presented at Geologica Belgica Meeting, Luik 2006.
  • Missiaen, P. & Smith, T. (2006). Arctostylopid mammals as non-gliroid Gliriformes: Tarsal and dental arguments. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 26 (3, suppl) p. 101A.Presented at 66th Annual SVP Meeting, Ottawa 2006.
  • Missiaen, P. & Smith, T. (2007). General review of the Late Paleocene Subeng mammal site of Inner Mongolia, China. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 27(3, suppl) p. 118A-119A. Presented at 67h Annual SVP Meeting, Austin 2007.
  • Missiaen, P., Escarguel, G., Hartenberger, J. & Smith, T. (2008). New dental and postcranial remains from a single population of Palaeostylops from the Late Paleocene of the Flaming Cliffs in Mongolia. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 28(3, suppl) p. 103A. Presented at 68h Annual SVP Meeting, Cleveland 2008.
  • Ladevèze, S., Missiaen, P. & Smith, T. (2008). First skull of the condylarth Orthaspidotherium edwardi from the Late Paleocene of Berru (France) and affinities of the enigmatic European family Pleuraspidotheriidae. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 28(3, suppl) p. 116A. Presented at 68h Annual SVP Meeting, Cleveland 2008.
  • Missiaen, P. & Smith, T. (2009). An updated mammal biochronology and biogeography for the Paleocene and early Eocene of Asia. Abstract voor International Symposium on Terrestrial Paleogene Biota and Stratigraphy of Eastern Asia, Beijing.
  • Missiaen, P. & Smith, T. (2009). Cymbalophus cuniculus from the early Eocene of Erquelinnes (Belgium), and its implications for basal perissodactyl phylogeny. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 29(3, suppl) p. 149A. Abstract voor 69th Annual SVP Meeting, Bristol.
  • Smith, T., Dupuis, C., Folie A., Quesnel, F., Storme, J.-Y., Iacumin, P., Riveline, J., Missiaen, P., Ladevèze, S. & Yans, J. 2010). Integrative analysis of the Paleocene-Eocene Mortemer Formation in the Sotteville-sur-Mer section of Upper Normandy, France. Abstract voor STRATI2010 Conference, Paris.
  • Missiaen, P., Gunnell, G.F. & Gingerich, P.D. (2010). New Early Eocene perissodactyl faunas from the continental Upper Ghazij Formation of Balochistan, Pakistan. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 30(3, suppl) p. 135A. Abstract voor 70th Annual SVP Meeting, Pittsburgh.
  • Missiaen, P., Gunnell, G.F. & Gingerich, P.D. (2010). Insights in the Early Eocene mammal faunas from Indo-Pakistan based on the Perissodactyla from the Ghazij Formation of Pakistan. Abstract voor Annual Meeting of the Palaeontological Association, Gent.
  • Smith, T., Missiaen, P. & Li, C.-S (2010). A new specimen of the enigmatic perissodactyl-like archaic ungulate mammal Olbitherium from the Early Eocene of Wutu coal mine, Shandong province, China. Abstract voor Annual Meeting of the Palaeontological Association, Gent.
  • Smith, T., Li C.-S., Zhang Q.-Q., Yang J., Storme J.-Y., Missiaen, P., Folie A., Ladevèze, S. & Jans Y. (2011). Paleoenvironmental reconstruction of a lake deposit from the early Eocene Wutu coal mine, Shandong Province, East China. Abstract for Climate and Biota of the Early Paleogene Meeting, Salzburg.