Face of the LIB: Peter Konstantinidis

“We protect fish by recognizing their larvae and thus protecting the spawning grounds.”

Peter Konstantinidis with a stranded three-and-a-half metre long thresher shark (Alopias pelagicus) on a beach in the North Pacific. © LIB, P. Konstantinidis


Just a few months ago, Peter Konstantinidis was still frequently out on the US Pacific watching whales. Since mid-January, he has been responsible for Germany’s largest fish collection as the new curator of ichthyology at the Museum der Natur Hamburg. He is particularly fascinated by the diversity and beauty of fish larvae. In this interview, the Swabian-born researcher explains why he wants to get more people interested in fish larvae and why he no longer owns an aquarium himself.

What drives you as a researcher? 

The curiosity to find out more about biological diversity. As the largest group of vertebrates, fish are the most exciting for me.

What are you particularly interested in?

Above all, the morphological diversity, i.e. the differences between skeletal systems in different fish. And how this information can be used to further investigate relationships.

How did you get into biology?

Fishing was already a big thing for me at the age of five. And then it was simply the logical consequence that I studied biology and specialized in fish. Over time and the more I learned, the more interesting it became. I didn’t take the direct route, but rather the second educational path. I really wanted to do something with biology and go into research.

What are the highlights of your current job?

The redescription of marine fish larvae and working with fish larvae in general. The diversity of fish larvae is even greater than that of adult animals. So if you think of the 36,000 species of fish we know so far, that’s an enormous morphological diversity and beauty! In high-resolution photos, the larvae look as if they are not even from this world.

Where can you find the most beautiful larvae? 

For me, it’s mainly the deep sea. There is a huge, interesting variety of deep-sea fish and their larvae.

As a fish curator, surely you have your own aquarium?

No, not any more. We had a whole aquarium room at the museum in London where I wrote my doctoral thesis. There were so many aquariums there that I didn’t feel like having my own at home. I had to look after 28 aquariums there for years and breed puffer fish. That was the end of the days of having my own aquarium.

What does your research achieve?

We protect fish by protecting the larvae, but we have to know them first. I pass on my expertise on marine fish larvae so that the spawning grounds can be better protected.

What does nature mean to you personally? Is there a favorite place in nature?

For me, nature is the reason why I am here on earth, why I exist. My favorite place – it’s hard to say, but it’s probably the woods in Oregon. I’ve lived there for the last seven years.

How do you explain biodiversity to children?

Biodiversity is created when organisms and animal species adapt to certain environmental conditions.

What was your personal professional goal when you came to the LIB?  

My goal is to work with a colleague from the Natural History Museum in Paris to establish a center for fish larvae identification and fish larvae research here at the LIB. We are the only two non-retired researchers in the world who can identify fish larvae. All the others are older than 70 and we have difficulties recruiting new blood.

I guess that’s what we call loss of species knowledge. What are you doing about it?

We teach and give courses in the knowledge of fish larvae – this year in France, in Brittany. I would like to offer a course every year, once in Hamburg, once in France, and of course invite my colleague to attend. And yes, we need to get students interested in this topic. The problem is that larvae identification is very time-consuming. You can’t learn it in two weeks. I’ve been doing it for ten years now and I’m still learning.

What should we identify with the LIB in ten years’ time?

It would be good if, with our new building in particular, we could give natural history museums in general, which are often considered so dusty, a new kick so that people would enjoy going to natural history museums again. Before I worked in this area, I wasn’t really aware of what a natural history museum actually is. People often only know the exhibition rooms. Many people don’t even know that there is so much research going on in the background, that the exhibition is just one part of the whole. I hope that the Hamburg museum will give the whole thing new impetus.

What do you see as the biggest challenge in the field of environmental protection?

That we humans change our consumer behavior. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening. It works in small groups, maybe here and there in smaller cities. But not on a large scale. More needs to happen at a political level in terms of restrictions.

What would you have become if biology hadn’t worked? 

Schreiner. That was always on the table too. I also had a small workshop in Oregon where I built furniture. That was always an alternative.


Dr. Peter Konstantinidis began his studies as an ichthyologist at the University of Tübingen and specialized early on in the diversity of cartilaginous and bony fishes. For his diploma thesis, he studied the locomotor system of the mako shark in order to understand its effective swimming style. His doctorate on the morphological diversity of pufferfish and their relatives took him to the Natural History Museum in London. He then moved to the University of Jena as a postdoc for his research on the evolution of basal bony fishes, before moving to the USA. After two years as a research associate at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, he became curator of the vertebrate collection at Oregon State University. On January 15, 2024, Peter Konstantinidis began his work as Section Head and Curator of Ichthyology at the LIB Hamburg.


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