Bill Ausich is eminently well qualified for the Gilbert Harris Award for Systematic Paleontology on the basis of his long and highly productive career in research on fossil crinoids. Bill is unquestionably among the world’s leading scholars of the diverse yet enigmatic crinoids, a group that has fascinated generations of paleontologists, but has posed major challenges to understanding of their origins, diversification, extinctions, faunal turnover, and evolutionary origins of the living members. (In case you were unaware: Crinoids are alive and well, on a run that approaches 500 million years!)

Bill grew up and was educated in the American heartland where the crinoid fossil record is so rich, receiving his undergraduate training at Illinois, and his graduate degrees at Indiana. At IU, Bill joined an illustrious lineage of crinoid expertise with Gary Lane as his supervisor, who had in turn been trained by Raymond C. Moore. Bill’s 1978 PhD on fossil communities of the Mississippian Borden Delta of Indiana was a seminal work on crinoid paleoecology, firmly based on up-to-date systematics, introducing the innovative concepts of crinoid niche partitioning based on filtration feeding mechanisms and epifaunal tiering.

Bill’s first academic job was at Wright State University in Dayton, and while there, Bill discovered a nearby treasure trove of undescribed Lower Silurian crinoids in the Brassfield Fm. The series of systematic papers that ensued, from 1984-87, provided major documentation of crinoids during a poorly understood interval on the threshold of Paleozoic crinoid radiation. At the same time he was developing the concepts of filtration feeding in relation to paleoenvironments of crinoids with Tom Kammer, as well as the general concept of faunal tiering as a driver of diversification with Dave Bottjer. All the while he continued to publish papers on crinoid systematics, phylogeny, functional morphology, and community structure. His unabated dedication to specimen-based, systematic paleontology through the discovery of new taxa and revision of taxonomy, based on modern concepts has resulted in a long record of papers in the Journal of Paleontology and other major journals. (Bill: How many new species have you described, and what’s the ratio of new taxa to names placed in synonymy?) He has also produced major systematic monographs such as his work on Irish Carboniferous crinoids with George Sevastopulo and more recently on Ordovician-Silurian crinoids of Anticosti Island with Paul Copper. Bill and Tom Kammer have been probably the most frequent visitors to the Springer Crinoid Collection at the Smithsonian, where, under the watchful eyes of Frank Springer’s portrait in the Springer Room, they have reorganized, updated, and augmented the world’s largest fossil crinoid collection – a yeoman service. In the 1980s Bill began a collaboration still ongoing, with Dave Meyer on a newly discovered echinoderm fauna in the Mississippian Ft Payne Fm of Kentucky, associated with enigmatic carbonate mounds, resulting in numerous papers on systematics, paleoecology, and taphonomy.

Bill’s long experience in crinoid systematics and faunal assemblages has led to macroevolutionary studies with Tom Kammer, Tom Baumiller, and Shanan Peters of crinoid species longevity and faunal turnover during the Ordovician to Silurian and also the mid- to late Paleozoic, when major groups dominant in the early to middle Paleozoic gave way to groups that became dominant in the late Paleozoic, and survived the end-Paleozoic mass extinctions to generate post-Paleozoic crinoid re-radiations. This work on crinoid faunal diversity is a major contribution in which up-to-date taxonomic revisions have been applied to analysis of diversification, extinction, and how these processes shaped crinoid evolution subsequently. As a result we are gaining a much better picture of how crinoids evolved in the Paleozoic and on into the post-Paleozoic, becoming part of the modern marine fauna. It should be noted that all of Bill’s contributions to paleobiology and evolutionary paleontology rest upon his solid foundation of specimen-based, systematic paleontological analysis.

The Gilbert Harris Award is a fitting addition to Bill’s previous honors, highlighted by the Schuchert Award from the Paleontological Society in 1990, Fellow of the GSA, AAAS, and PS, several distinguished teaching awards at Ohio State, Fulbright Scholar in 1992, a research medal from the university in Vila Real, Portugal in 2006, and by no means least, his designation as a Kentucky Colonel in 1991. Bill has also rendered major service as Chair of his very large department at OSU from 1995-99, President of the Paleontological Society, 2002-2004, and Director of the Orton Museum at OSU since 2002 – in addition to many other professional services. All the while he has shouldered these heavy responsibilities, he has maintained his vigorous research program, which has been virtually continuously funded by agencies such as NSF, National Geographic, and the Petroleum Research Fund. We are honoring Bill today for his prodigious contributions to systematic paleontology, but clearly, his achievements are far wider. Bill Ausich is an exemplary model for paleontological research, scholarship, education, and professional service that all of us should strive to emulate, and today the PRI is honored to recognize him with the Gilbert Harris Award.