Peter Sheehan |
Your shopping cart is empty.

Peter Sheehan

Museum Curator / Geologist

  • Fellow
  • 2006
Science, Geology, Science Education

Peter Sheehan is the Robert and Sally Manegold Distinguished Curatorial Chair and Head of Geology Department at the Milwaukee Public Museum and Adjunct Professor in Geosciences at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.





  • Lodi Union High School, Lodi, California, 1960
  • Univ. California, Berkeley - A.B. in Paleontology, 1965
  • Univ. California, Berkeley - M.A. in Paleontology, 1967
  • Univ. California, Berkeley - Ph.D. in Paleontology, 1971
Professional Experience


  • 1971-1972: U.S. National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, Lund, Sweden
  • 1972-1973: Lecturer, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario
  • 1973-1977: Adjoint de Recherche, Département de géologie, Université de Montréal 1977-(present): Adjunct Professor, Department of Geosciences, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
  • 1977-(present): Curator III, IV, V, Milwaukee Public Museum
  • 2000-(present): Robert and Sally Manegold Distinguished Curatorial Chair, Milwaukee Public Museum
Professional Affiliations


  • Geological Society of America (Fellow)
  • Paleontological Society
  • Palaeontological Association
  • Geological Association of Canada (Fellow)
  • International Paleontological Association
  • Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Wisconsin Earth Science Teachers Association
  • Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters (Fellow)
Research and Professional Interests


I am particularly interested in the constraints on evolution imposed by synecologic association of animals and the environment. My research is focused on the community ecology and zoogeography of Ordovician and Silurian brachiopods. I am working on extinction events at the end of the Ordovician and the subsequent faunal radiation in the Silurian and on the Ordovician Radiation. As a sidelight I am examining the extinction of dinosaurs. Current projects include: 1) Faunal change at the Ordovician Extincition. 2) a comparison of sequence stratigraphic patterns and faunal changes during the Ordovician and Silurian in the Great Basin and Estonia, 3) microbial mat expansion associated with loss of fauna after the Ordovician extinction, 4) the extinction of dinosaurs and 5) changes in patterns of sedimentation in western North America resulting from faunal and floral changes following the K/T asteroid impact.


As Head Curator of Geology, I have diverse responsibilities in research, curation, exhibition and administration. I contribute to the exhibition program on an as needed basis. I serve on various internal committees in the MPM. As a museum curator I maintain strong ties with the community through identification of geologic specimens for the public, contact with the press and television, university affiliation, school lectures and tours, public lectures, and assisting our exhibition staff. I offer a course for Docents who lead public tours through the geology exhibits.


Selected Publications


2005i. Sheehan, P.M. Evolution of animal life: Perspectives from the geological record. In Cracraft, J. and Bybee, R.W. (eds.) Evolutionary Science and Society: Educating a New Generation. Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, Washington, DC, p. 115-124.


Favstovsky, D.E., and Sheehan, P.M. 2005a. The extinction of the dinosaurs in North America. GSA Today, v. 15, no. 3, p. 4-10.


Sheehan, P.M. and Harris, M.T. 2004e. Microbialite resurgence after the Late Ordovician extinction. Nature, v. 430, p. 75-78.


Fastovsky, D.E., Huang, Y., Hsu, J., Martin-McNaughton, J., Sheehan, P. and Weishampel D.B. 2004l. Shape of Mesozoic dinosaur richness. Geology, v. 32, p. 877-880.


McGhee G.R., Jr., Sheehan, P.M., Bottjer, D.J., Droser, M.L. 2004m. Ecological ranking of Phanerozoic biodiversity crises: ecological and taxonomic severities are decoupled. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, v. 211, p. 289 - 297.


Sheehan, P.M. The Late Ordovician mass extinction. 2001a. Annual Reviews of Earth and Planetary Sciences, v. 29, p. 331-364.


Sheehan, P.M. 2001b. History of marine biodiversity. In Harper, D.A.T., and Benton, M.J. (eds.) History of Biodiversity, Geological Journal, 36, p. 231-249.


Bottjer, D.J., Droser, M.L., Sheehan, P.M., and McGhee, G.R. Jr. 2001c. The ecological architecture of major events in the Phanerozoic history of marine invertebrate life. In Allmon, W.D., and Bottjer, D.J. (eds.) Evolutionary Paleoecology. New York, Columbia University Press, p. 35-61.


Sheehan, P.M., Fastovsky, D.E., Barreto, C., Hoffmann, R.G., 2000a. Dinosaur abundance was not declining in a "3 m gap" at the top of the Hell Creek Formation, Montana and North Dakota. Geology, v. 28, p. 523-526.


Droser, M.L., Bottjer, D.J., Sheehan, P.M., McGhee Jr., G.R. 2000c. Decoupling of taxonomic and ecologic severity of Phanerozoic marine mass extinctions: Geology, v.28, p.675-678.


Sheehan, P.M., Coorough, P.J., and Fastovsky, D.E. 1996f. Biotic selectivity during the K/T and Late Ordovician extinction events. In Ryder, G., Fastovsky, D., and Gartner, S., eds., The Cretaceous-Tertiary Event and Other Catastrophes in Earth History: Geological Society of America Special Paper 307, p. 477-489.


Sheehan, P.M. A new look at Ecologic Evolutionary Units (EEUs). 1996h. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, v. 127, p. 21-32.




Fellowships, Awards and Offices


  • U.S. National Defense Education Act Fellow, 1966-1969
  • U.S. National Science Foundation Graduate Traineeship, 1969-1971
  • Dorothy K. Palmer Memorial Prize awarded by the Regents of the University of California, 1969
  • U.S. National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, 1971-1972
  • National Research Council of Canada, Atache de Recherche, 1972-1977
  • Chairman, North-Central Section, Paleontological Society, 1982-1983
  • Council Member Paleontological Society, 1982-83
  • Associate Editor for North America, Lethaia, 1986-1993
  • U. S. Delegate to Conference on Scientific Deep Sea Drilling II (COSOD II), 1987
  • Associate Editor, Palaios, 1989-1996
  • Schuchert Medal Committee, Paleontological Society, 1987-1994; 2003-2007
  • Program Coordinator, Paleontological Society, 1989-1995
  • Council Member Paleontological Society, 1989-1995
  • Member of IGCP Project Ecostratigraphy, 1973-1988
  • Representative on Biological Sciences Section Committee, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1991-1994
  • Co-Organizer, IGCP 503, Ordovician Palaeogeography and Palaeoclimate, 2004 - 2009
  • Fellow, Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, elected 2006
Research Grants and Support


  • National Research Council of Canada, 1975-1977, $8,400. Paleo-biogeography and biostratigraphy of Mid-Paleozoic brachiopods in eastern Canada.
  • National Science Foundation (Earth Science), 1979-1982, $48,985. Renewed (1983-1985), $51,819. Upper Ordovician stratigraphy and brachiopod faunas in the eastern Great Basin.
  • University of Wisconsin Graduate School, 1982, $7,338. Upper Ordovician stratigraphy.
  • Friends of the Milwaukee Public Museum, 1986-1991, Total project funding: $213,293. (1986-91). Facies mediated trends in dinosaur diversity prior to the extinction at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary, Hell Creek Formation, ND and MT. Preliminary field work in ND and MT: $13,876. (1986). Contributions from volunteers to finance field work: $37,500 (l987); $28,000 (l988); $34,527 (1990). FOM General Fund contributions to support staff: $8,500 (1986); $15,000, (1987); $15,000 (1988). Vollrath Foundation, computerization support including digitizing topographic maps, computer support in the field, and programmer salaries: $19,500 (1987); $13,000 (1988). Windway Foundation salary support for data entry in field: $1,700 (1987), $1,700 (1988), $6,000 (1990); in kind services $18,500.
  • National Science Foundation (Earth Sciences), 1990-1992, $39,577. Zoogeography and paleoecologic distribution of brachiopods from the Late Ordovician to the Middle Silurian.
  • National Science Foundation (Earth Sciences), 1994-1998, $29,402. Criteria for extending sequences across regional shelf-to-slope carbonate environments: Upper Ordovician and Silurian strata of the Great Basin.
  • National Science Foundation (Earth Sciences}, 1994-1995, $4,200. Patterns of dinosaur abundance through time in facies of the Hell Creek Formation.
  • National Science Foundation (Earth Sciences), 1997-2000, $63,509. The ecology of the Ordovician Radiation: Evidence from the Basin and Range Province of the western U.S.A.
  • National Science Foundation (Earth Sciences), 2000-2004, $117,678. Comparing Upper Ordovician-Lower Silurian carbonate platforms in Estonia and teh Great Basin: A test of the synchrony of faunal changes.
Museum Grants


  • Institute of Museum Services (HEW), 1979-1980, $9,882. Operating grant for post doctoral associate to prepare a catalogue of fossil type specimens at the Milwaukee Public Museum.
  • National Science Foundation (Public Understanding of Science), 1980-1983, $374,488. To produce a new Geology Hall in the Milwaukee Public Museum.
  • Institute of Museum Services (HEW), 1980-1981, $15,000. Operating grant for post doctoral associate to examine invertebrate fossils in the Milwaukee Public Museum.
  • National Science Foundation (Biotic Systems and Resources), 1983-1986, $50,684. Curation of MPM Cambrian and Devonian fossil collections.
  • National Science Foundation (Biotic Systems and Resources), 1986-1988, $50,228. Curation of MPM Ordovician and Silurian fossil collections.
  • National Science Foundation (Biotic Systems and Resources), 1989-1991, $76,526. Curation of MPM Silurian and Upper Paleozoic through Tertiary invertebrate fossil collections.
  • National Science Foundation (Biotic Systems and Resources), 1992, $24,918. Supplement to above grant to provide MPM access to Internet by installing a microwave connection with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
  • Wisconsin Advanced Technology Fund, 1996-1997, $48,000. To produce World Wide Web pages on the Milwaukee Public Museum's Silurian Reef for teachers and students.


Contact Us

Follow Us

Wisconsin Academy Offices 
1922 University Avenue
Madison, Wisconsin 53726
Phone: 608.733.6633


James Watrous Gallery 
3rd Floor, Overture Center for the Arts
201 State Street
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: 608.733.6633 x25