Dr. W. Leo Smith

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences - Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, KU Biodiversity Institute
Associate Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Associate Curator, Biodiversity Institute
Primary office:
Dyche Hall
Room 701C
University of Kansas
1345 Jayhawk Boulevard
Lawrence, KS 66045-7561


Dr. Smith's research focus is the comparative evolutionary biology of fishes.


Dr. Smith teaches Principles in Organismal Biology, Ichthyology, and Systematics & Macroevolution.

Teaching Interests

  • Evolution
  • Ichthyology
  • Systematics
  • Animal Diversity
  • Ecology


Dr. Smith is interested in the phylogenetics and macroevolution of fishes and systematic theory. He uses a combination of phylogenetic trees, field collections, and focused anatomical, morphometric, and genomic analyses to understand the evolution and diversification of freshwater and marine fishes.

Research Interests

  • Ichthyology
  • Evolution
  • Comparative morphology
  • Phylogenetics
  • Diversification
  • Venom
  • Bioluminescence

Selected Publications

Ghedotti, M. J., Smith, W. L., & Davis, M. P. (2019). The first evidence of intrinsic epidermal bioluminescence within ray-finned fishes in the snaketooth fish Pseudoscopelus scriptus (Chiasmodontidae). Journal of Fish Biology, 95, 1540–1543.

Smith, W. L., Buck, C. A., Ornay, G. S., Davis, M. P., Martin, R. P., Gibson, S. Z., & Girard, M. G. (2018). Improving vertebrate skeleton images: Fluorescence and the non-permanent mounting of cleared-and-stained specimens. Copeia, 106, 427–435.

Martin, R. P., Olson, E. E., Girard, M. G., Smith, W. L., & Davis, M. P. (2018). Light in the darkness: New perspective on lanternfish relationships and classification using genomic and morphological data. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 121, 71–85.

Ghedotti, M. J., Gruber, J. N., Barton, R. W., Davis, M. P., & Smith, W. L. (2018). Morphology and evolution of bioluminescent organs in the glowbellies (Percomorpha: Acropomatidae) with comments on the taxonomy and phylogeny of Acropomatiformes. Journal of Morphology, 279, 1640–1653.

Smith, W. L., Everman, E. & Richardson, C. (2018). Phylogeny and taxonomy of flatheads, scorpionfishes, sea robins, and stonefishes (Percomorpha: Scorpaeniformes) and the evolution of the lachrymal saber. Copeia, 106, 94–119.

Gruber, D. F., Loew, E. R., Deheyen, D. D., Akkaynak, D. Gaffney, J. P., Smith, W. L., Davis, M. P., Stern, J. H., Pieribone, V. A., & Sparks, J. S. (2016). Biofluorescence in catsharks (Scyliorhinidae): Fundamental description and relevance for elasmobranch visual ecology. Nature: Scientific Reports, 6, 24751.

Smith, W. L., Stern, J. H., Girard, M. G., & Davis, M. P. (2016). Evolution of venomous cartilaginous and ray-finned fishes. Integrative and Comparative Biology , 56, 950ΓÇô961.

Harrington, R. C., Faircloth, B. C., Eytan, R. I., Smith, W. L., Near, T. J., Alfaro, M. E., & Friedman, M. (2016). Phylogenomic analysis of carangimorph fishes reveals flatfish asymmetry arose in a blink of the evolutionary eye. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 16, 224.

Davis, M. P., Sparks, J. S., & Smith, W. L. (2016). Repeated and widespread evolution of bioluminescence in marine fishes. PLOS ONE, 11, e0155154.

Smith, W. L., & Busby, M. S. (2014). Phylogeny and taxonomy of sculpins, sandfishes, and snailfishes (Perciformes: Cottoidei) with comments on the phylogenetic significance of their early-life-history specializations. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 79, 332-352.

Davis, M. P., Holcroft, N. I., Wiley, E. O., Sparks, J. S., & Smith, W. L. (2014). Species-specific bioluminescence facilitates speciation in the deep sea. Marine Biology, 161, 1139-1148.

Sparks, J. S., Schelly, R. C., Smith, W. L., Davis, M. P., Tchernov, D. Pieribone, V. A., & Gruber, D. F. (2014). The covert world of fish biofluorescence: A phylogenetically widespread and phenotypically variable phenomenon. PlOS One, 9, e83259.

Stewart, T. A., Smith, W. L., & Coates, M. I. (2014). The origins of adipose fins: An analysis of homoplasy and the serial homology of vertebrate appendages. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B, 281, 20133120.

Price, S. A., Schmitz, L. Ouifiero, C. E., Eytan, R. I., Dornburg, A. Smith, W. L., Friedman, M. Near, T. J., & Wainwright, P. C. (2014). Two waves of colonization straddling the KΓÇôPg boundary formed the modern reef fish fauna. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B, 281, 20140321.

Dikow, R. B., & Smith, W. L. (2013). Complete genome sequences provide a case study for the evaluation of gene-tree thinking. Cladistics, 29, 672-682.

Dikow, R. B., & Smith, W. L. (2013). Genome-level homology and phylogeny of Vibrionaceae (Gammaproteobacteria: Vibrionales) with three new complete genome sequences. BMC Biology, 13, 80.

Near, T. J., Dornburg, A. Eytan, R. I., Keck, B. P., Smith, W. L., Kuhn, K. L., Moore, J. A., Price, S. A., Burbrink, F. T., Friedman, M. & Wainwright, P. C. (2013). Phylogeny and tempo of diversification in the superradiation of spiny-rayed fishes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110, 12738-12743.

McMahan, C. D., Chakrabarty, P. Sparks, J. S., Smith, W. L., & Davis, M. P. (2013). Temporal patterns of diversification across global cichlid biodiversity (Acanthomorpha: Cichlidae). PlOS One, 8, e71162.

Miller, J. Dikow, T. Agosti, D. Sautter, G. Catapano, T. Penev, L. Zhang, Z. Q., Pentcheff, D. Pyle, R. Blum, S. D., Parr, C. Freeland, C. Garnett, T. Ford, L. S., Muller, B. Smith, W. L., Strader, G. Georgiev, T. & Bénichou, L. (2012). From taxonomic literature to cybertaxonomic content. BMC Biology, 10, 87.

Near, T. J., Sandel, M. Kuhn, K. L., Unmack, P. J., Wainwright, P. C., & Smith, W. L. (2012). Nuclear gene-inferred phylogenies resolve the relationships of the enigmatic Pygmy Sunfishes, Elassoma (Teleostei: Percomorpha). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 63, 388-395.

Near, T. J., Eytan, R. I., Dornburg, A. Kuhn, K. L., Moore, J. A., Davis, M. P., Wainwright, P. C., Friedman, M. & Smith, W. L. (2012). Resolution of ray-finned fish phylogeny and timing of diversification. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109, 13698-13703.

Wainwright, P. C., Smith, W. L., Price, S. A., Tang, K. L., Sparks, J. S., Ferry, L. A., Kuhn, K. L., Eytan, R. I., & Near, T. J. (2012). The evolution of pharyngognathy: A phylogenetic and functional appraisal of the pharyngeal jaw key innovation in labroid fishes and beyond. Systematic Biology, 61, 1001-1027.

Chakrabarty, P. Davis, M. P., Smith, W. L., Baldwin, Z. H., & Sparks, J. S. (2011). Is sexual selection driving diversification of the bioluminescent ponyfishes (Teleostei: Leiognathidae)? Molecular Ecology, 20, 2818-2834.

Li, C. Betancur-R., R. Smith, W. L., & Ortí, G. (2011). Monophyly and interrelationships of Snook and Barramundi (Centropomidae sensu Greenwood) and five new markers for fish phylogenetics. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 60, 463-471.

Jones, C. C., Smith, W. L., & Sparks, J. S. (2010). A new species of rainbowfish (Teleostei: Melanotaenioidei: Bedotiidae) from the Makira region of northeastern Madagascar. Copeia, 2010, 284-291.

Smith, W. L. (2010). Promoting resolution of the percomorph bush: A reply to Mooi and Gill. Copeia, 2010, 520-524.

Smith, W. L., Smith, K. R., & Wheeler, W. C. (2009). Novel mitochondrial intergenic spacer in fairy basslets (Serranidae: Anthiinae) and the simultaneous analysis of nucleotide and genomic data. American Museum Novitates, 3652, 1-10.

Smith, W. L., Chakrabarty, P. & Sparks, J. S. (2008). Phylogeny, taxonomy, and evolution of Neotropical cichlids (Teleostei: Cichlidae: Cichlinae). Cladistics, 24, 625-641.

Smith, W. L., & Sparks, J. S. (2007). Gobius lagocephalus: The world's most widespread nomen dubium. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 43, 696-698.

Smith, W. L., & Sparks, J. S. (2007). Case 3383: Gobius lagocephalus: Pallas 1770 (currently Sicyopterus lagocephalus: Teleostei, Gobiidae): Proposed suppression of the specific name. Bulletin of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, 64, 103-107.

Smith, W. L., & Craig, M. T. (2007). Casting the percomorph net widely: The importance of broad taxonomic sampling in the search for the placement of serranid and percid fishes. Copeia, 2007, 35-55.

Sparks, J. S., & Smith, W. L. (2006). Sicyopterus lagocephalus: Widespread species, species complex, or neither? A critique on the use of molecular data for species identification. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 40, 900-902.

Wheeler, W. C., Aagesen, L. Arango, C. P., Faivovich, J. Grant, T. D'Haese, C. Janies, D. Smith, W. L., Varon, A. & Giribet, G. (2006). Dynamic Homology and Phylogenetic Systematics: A Unified Approach Using POY, New York: American Museum of Natural History.

Webb, J. F., Smith, W. L., & Ketten, D. R. (2006). The laterophysic connection and swim bladder of butteryflyfishes in the genus Chaetodon (Perciformes: Chaetodontidae). Journal of Morphology, 267(11), 1338-1355. DOI:10.1002/jmor.10480

Smith, W. L., & Wheeler, W. C. (2006). Venom evolution widespread in fishes: A road map for the bioprospecting of piscine venoms. Journal of Heredity, 97, 206-217.

Sparks, J. S., Dunlap, P. V., & Smith, W. L. (2005). Evolution and diversification of a sexually dimorphic luminescent system in ponyfishes (Teleostei: Leiognathidae), including diagnoses for two new genera. Cladistics, 21, 305-327.

Sparks, J. S., & Smith, W. L. (2005). Freshwater fishes, dispersal ability, and non- evidence: 'Gondwana life rafts' to the rescue. Systematic Biology, 54, 158-165.

Greenfield, D. W., & Smith, W. L. (2004). Allenbatrachus meridionalis, a new toadfish (Batrachoididae) from Madagascar and Reunion. Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences, 55, 570-574.

Rosenblatt, R. H., & Smith, W. L. (2004). Icelinus limbaughi, new species of sculpin (Teleostei: Cottidae) from southern California. Copeia, 2004, 556-561.

Sparks, J. S., & Smith, W. L. (2004). Phylogeny and biogeography of cichlid fishes (Teleostei: Perciformes: Cichlidae). Cladistics, 20, 501-517.

Sparks, J. S., & Smith, W. L. (2004). Phylogeny and biogeography of the Malagasy and Australasian rainbowfishes (Teleostei: Melanotaenioidei): Gondwanan vicariance and evolution in freshwater. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 33, 719-734.

Smith, W. L., & Wheeler, W. C. (2004). Polyphyly of the mail-cheeked fishes (Teleostei: Scorpaeniformes): Evidence from mitochondrial and nuclear sequence data. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 32, 627-646.

Smith, W. L., Thoney, D. Loiselle, P. & Schlager, N. (2003). Scorpaeniformes I: Gurnards and flatheads. In , Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia: Fishes Volume 2 (pp. 157-162). Farmington Hills, MI: The Gale Group.

Smith, W. L., Thoney, D. Loiselle, P. & Schlager, N. (2003). Scorpaeniformes II: Scorpionfishes and relatives. In , Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia: Fishes Volume 2 (pp. 163-178). Farmington Hills, MI: The Gale Group.

Smith, W. L., Webb, J. F., & Blum, S. D. (2003). The evolution and phylogenetic significance of the laterophysic connection with a revised phylogeny and classification of butterflyfishes (Teleostei: Chaetodontidae). Cladistics, 19, 287-306.

Webb, J. F., & Smith, W. L. (2000). The laterophysic connection in chaetodontid butterfly- fishes: Morphological variation and speculations on sensory function. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B, 355, 1125-1129.

Baldwin, C. C., & Smith, W. L. (1998). Belonoperca pylei, a new species of seabass (Teleostei: Serranidae: Epinephelinae: Diploprionini) from the Cook Islands with comments on relationships among diploprionins. Ichthyological Research, 45, 325-339.

Selected Work

Selected Grants

Smith, W. L., (Co-Principal), Davis, M P, (Principal), Sparks, J S, (Principal), Collaborative research: Diversification in the deep sea and the evolution of fangs, bioluminescence, hermaphroditism, and marine habitat transitions, DEB-1258141, National Science Foundation, $425,000, Submitted 01/01/2012 (01/01/2013 - 12/31/2016). Federal. Status: Funded.

Smith, W L., (Principal), Wainwright, P C, (Principal), Near, T J, (Principal), Collaborative research: Causes and consequences of exceptional diversity in spiny-rayed fishes, DEB-1060869, National Science Foundation, $288,507, Submitted 01/01/2010 (01/01/2011 - 12/31/2014). Federal. Status: Funded.

Smith, W L, (Principal), Broughton, R E, (Principal), Carpenter, K E, (Principal), Grande, T, (Principal), Lopez, J A, (Principal), Lu, G, (Principal), Ortí, G, (Principal), Wiley, E O, (Principal), Diamond, J, (Co-Principal), Holcroft, N I, (Co-Principal), Johnson, G D, (Co-Principal), Li, C, (Co-Principal), Collaborative research: Assembling the euteleost tree of life - addressing the major unresolved problem in vertebrate phylogeny, DEB-0732642, National Science Foundation, $261,598, Submitted 01/01/2006 (01/01/2007 - 12/31/2012). Federal. Status: Funded.

Smith, W L, (Principal), Voris, H K, (Co-Principal), Providing long-term security and access to genetic resources at Field Museum, MA-05-09-0041-09, The Institute of Museum and Library Services, $120,999, Submitted 01/01/2008 (01/01/2009 - 12/31/2010). Federal. Status: Funded.

Smith, W L, (Co-Principal), Wainwright, P C, (Principal), Near, T J, (Principal), Collaborative research: Phylogenetics and key innovations in labroid fishes, DEB - 0716155, National Science Foundation, $12,500, Submitted 01/01/2006 (01/01/2007 - 12/31/2010). Federal. Status: Funded.

Smith, W L, (Co-Principal), Stiassny, M LJ, (Principal), Dissertation research: Scorpionfish (Teleostei: Scorpaenoidei) phylogenetics and the evolution of venom in fishes, DEB-0405246, National Science Foundation, $11,970, Submitted 01/01/2003 (01/01/2004 - 12/31/2006). Federal. Status: Funded.



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