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Dr Robert W. Gess


Robert Gess is based at the Albany Museum.

He has been teaching undergraduate modules in palaeontology in our department since 2011.  

Ph.D. (Evolutionary Studies Institute, Wits)
M.Sc. (UFH)
HDE (Rhodes)
BSc Geology & Zoology (Rhodes)

Phone +27 (0)82 7595848

E-mail: robg(at)imaginet.co.za



Research Interests

Robert Gess is South Africa’s principle researcher on Devonian (420 – 359 million year old) marginal marine and terrestrial ecosystems, as well as Early Vertebrates (ancient fish and early four legged creatures).

The Late Devonian Waterloo Farm lagerstätte (exceptional fossil site) outside Grahamstown, continues to be his main focus of research. His excavations at Waterloo Farm have revealed the most complete record of a high latitude Famennian (latest Devonian) ecosystem in the world – including plants, invertebrates and vertebrates. Exceptional preservation of much of the material allows unique glimpses of the normally unpreserved soft tissue remains of early animals.

Dr Gess is interested in understanding the changing nature of coastal and early land ecosystems of the Devonian and Early Carboniferous. He is therefore actively doing exploration and excavation in younger and older rocks of the Cape Supergroup.

Selected papers

>30 peer reviewed journal articles and book chapters

Selected recent contributions:

Reddy, C., Thuy, B., Reid, M. and Gess, R., 2023. Earliest known ophiuroids from high palaeolatitude, southern Gondwana, recovered from the Pragian to earliest Emsian Baviaanskloof Formation (Table Mountain Group, Cape Supergroup) South Africa. Plos one18(10), p.e0292636.

Gess, R.W. and Ahlberg, P.E. (2023) A high latitude Gondwanan species of the Late Devonian tristichopterid Hyneria (Osteichthyes: Sarcopterygii), PLoS ONE 18(2): e0281333.

Gess, R.W. and Prestianni, C. (2022) Flabellopteris lococannensis gen. et sp. nov.:  A new fern-like plant from the Famennian of South Africa, Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology https://doi.org/10.1016/j.revpalbo.2021

Scholze, F. and Gess, R.W. (2021) Late Devonian non-marine Naiadites devonicus nov. sp. (Bivalvia: Pteriomorphia) from the Waterloo Farm Lagerstätte in South Africa. Geobios 69: 55-67. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geobios.2021.07.002

Harris, C., Gess, R.W., Prestianni,C. and Bamford, M.K. (2021) A Late Devonian refugium for Colpodexylon (Lycopsida) at high latitude Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 293: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.revpalbo.2021.104481

Gess, R.W. and Prestianni, C. (2021) An early Devonian flora from the Baviaanskloof Formation (Table Mountain Group) of South Africa. Scientific Reports 11(1):11859: pp 1-23 doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-90180-z

Harris, C., Gess, R.W., Rubidge, B.S. and Penn-Clarke, C. (2021) Coombs Hill: A Late Devonian fossil locality in the Witpoort Formation (Witteberg Group, South Africa). South African Journal of Science: 117(3/4) pp 1-6. DOI: 10.17159/sajs.2021/9190

Miyashita, T., Gess, R.W., Tietjen, K., and Coates, M.I., (2021) Non-ammocoete larvae of Palaeozoic stem lampreys. Nature 591(7850): 982-984. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03305-9

Gess R.W. and Whitfield, A.K. (2020) Estuarine fish and tetrapod evolution: insights from a Late Devonian (Famennian) Gondwanan estuarine lake and a southern African Holocene equivalent. Biological Reviews: 95, pp. 865–888. doi: 10.1111/brv.12590

Gess R.W. and Clement A.M. (2019). A high latitude Devonian lungfish, from the Famennian of South Africa. PeerJ, 7:e8073 DOI 10.7717/peerj.8073

Fontanarrosa, G., Abdala, F., Kümmell, S. and Gess, R. (2019) The manus of Tetracynodon (Therapsida: Therocephalia) provides evidence for survival strategies following the Permo-Triassic extinction, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 38:4, (1-13) doi.org/10.1080/02724634.2018.1491404

Gess, R., Ahlberg, P.E. (2018) A tetrapod fauna from within the Devonian Antarctic Circle. Science, 360: 1120-1124.

Gess, R.W. and Prestianni , C. (2018) Kowieria alveoformis gen. nov. sp. nov., a new heterosporous lycophyte from the Latest Devonian of Southern Africa. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology: 249:1-8.

Gess, R.W. and Trinajstic, K.M. (2017) New morphological information on, and species of placoderm fish Africanaspis (Arthrodira, Placodermi) from the Late Devonian of South Africa. PLoS ONE 12(4): e0173169. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0173169.

Scholtz, S., Gess, R.W. (2017) Oldest known naiaditid bivalve from the high-latitude Late Devonian (Famennian) of South Africa offers clues to survival strategies following the Hangenberg mass extinction. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology: 471 (2017) 31–39.

Coates, M.I., Gess, R.W., Finarelli, J.A., Criswell, K.E.  and Tietjen, K. (2017) A symmoriiform chondrichthyan braincase and the origin of chimaeroid fishes. Nature: 541: 208-211 DOI: 10.1038/nature20806.

Gess, R.W. (2016). Vertebrate biostratigraphy of the Witteberg Group and the Devonian Carboniferous boundary in South Africa, in eds. Linol, B. and de Wit, M. J., The Origin and Evolution of the Cape Mountains and Karoo Basin. Springer, Regional Geology Reviews. pp 131-140. Doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-40859-0_13.

Gess, R.W. and Coates, M.I. (2015). Fossil juvenile coelacanths from the Devonian of South Africa shed light on the order of character acquisition in actinistians. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. 175, 360–383.  doi: 10.1111/zoj.12276

Gess, R.W. and Coates, M.I. (2015). High Latitude Chondrichthyans from the Late Devonian (Famennian) Witpoort formation of South Africa. Palaeontologische Zeitschrift: 89: 147–169. DOI 10.1007/s12542-014-0221-9.

Prestiani, C. and Gess, R.W. (2014). The rooting system of Leptophloeum Dawson: new material from the Upper Devonian, Famennian, Witpoort Formation of South Africa (Prestianni and Gess). Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology: 209: 35-40.

Gess, R.W. (2013) The earliest record of terrestrial animals in Gondwana: A scorpion from the Famennian (Late Devonian) Witpoort Formation of South Africa. African Invertebrates: 54 (2): 373–379.

Gess, R. and Coates M.  (2008) Vertebrate Diversity of the Late Devonian (Famennian) Deposit near Grahamstown, South Africa. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology: 28 (3) conference supplement p 83.

Coates, M.I. and Gess, R.W. (2007). A new reconstruction of Onychoselache traquairi, comments on early chondrichthyan pectoral girdles, and hybodontiform phylogeny, Palaeontology 50, 6: 1421-1446.

Gess, R.W., Coates, M.I. and Rubidge, B.S. (2006). A lamprey from the Devonian period of South Africa. Nature 443: 981-984.



Approximately twenty-five abstracts published in international and national conference proceedings, accompanying oral presentations, and occasionally posters.  Details for some recent ones are provided here:

Gess, R.W. (2017) Estuarine fish breeding grounds: a comparison of the Famennian aged Waterloo Farm lagerstätten and contemporary systems. 14th International Symposium on Early and Lower Vertebrates, Checiny, Poland, 3-8.07.2017 Ichthyolith Issues Special Publication 13.

Harris, C. and Gess, R.W. (2017) A trace fossil assemblage from ‘lingulid mud beds’ in the Upper Devonian Witpoort Formation, Witteberg Group, South Africa. 2nd International Conference of Continental Ichnology held in Cape Town in October. Proceedings.

Gess, R. W. and Coates, M. I. (2015) A Middle Devonian (Givetian) fossilised shark jaw from South Africa. Abstract volume, 13th International symposium on Early and Lower Vertebrates: Royal Society of Victoria, Melbourne Australia, August 3rd-7th, 2015. Abstract volume, 13th International symposium on Early and Lower Vertebrates: Royal Society of Victoria, Melbourne Australia, August 3rd-7th, 2015.

Coates, M. I., Gess, R. W., Finarelli, J. A., Criswell, K. E. and Sansom, I. J. (2015) Diversity, homoplasy and uncertainty among the earliest sharks. Abstract volume, 13th International symposium on Early and Lower Vertebrates: Royal Society of Victoria, Melbourne Australia, August 3rd-7th, 2015. Abstract volume, 13th International symposium on Early and Lower Vertebrates: Royal Society of Victoria, Melbourne Australia, August 3rd-7th, 2015.

Gess, R.W. (2015) The Witteberg Group fossil record and the End Devonian Mass Extinction event. Abstract volume, Cape Karoo  IMBIZO: Origin and Evolution of the Cape Mountains and Karoo Basin, Port Elizabeth, 25th to 27th November, 2015.

Gess, R.W. (2014). A high latitude Late Devonian (Famennian) lagerstatte from South Africa: a window into marginal marine and terrestrial Gondwanan ecosystems. Proceedings of the fourth International Palaeontology Congress, Mendoza, Argentina, September 28 –October 3, 2014.

Gess, R.W. (2014) New specimens of Africanaspis, an arthrodire placoderm genus from the Devonian, Famennian, Witpoort Formation Waterloo Farm lagerstätte allow for the definition and full reconstruction of two species. Proceedings of the 18th Biennial Conference of the Palaeontological Society of Southern Africa, Johannesburg, July 11–14, 2014.

Fernandez, V., Gess, R.W., and Rubidge, B.S. (2014) Large helical burrow casts from the Late Permian of South Africa. Proceedings of the 18th Biennial Conference of the alaeontological Society of Southern Africa, Johannesburg, July 11–14, 2014. 

Palaeontological Impact Assessment reports

Approximately 90 detailed palaeontological Impact Assessment Survey reports.


Last Modified: Thu, 07 Dec 2023 11:45:25 SAST