AREAS OF STUDY

•   Diversification and Macroevolution
•   Evolutionary Morphology
•   Theoretical Phylogenetics
•   Reef Fish Molecular Systematics

The central goal of my research program is to understand the factors that govern the dynamics of evolutionary diversification. Why are some groups morphologically diverse? Does morphological diversity always signal mechanical, functional, or ecological diversity? Are there general laws or themes that can be used to explain the uneven distribution of diversity in physiological traits across lineages? To address these questions, I work largely on marine fishes. My research approach is interdisciplinary and quantitative and crosses traditional boundaries among evolutionary morphology, molecular phylogenetics, and theoretical evolution. I identify and quantify organismal diversity by measuring genome size, morphology, and behavior; construct evolutionary trees and test evolutionary hypotheses using phylogenetic statistical methods; and use models of trait evolution to explore form-function dynamics.

HOW HAVE REEFS SHAPED DIVERSIFICATION IN FISHES?

Coral reefs are home to the most diverse assemblage vertebrates on our planet yet we know little about how this biodiversity has evolved. We are using molecular phylogenetics, the fossil record, morphological measures, and comparative methods to study the tempo of diversification in tetraodontiform fish, a group which includes pufferfishes, filefishes, and triggerfishes, to understand whether transitions to coral reefs underlie patterns of morphological richness and species diversity. Funded by NSF DEB 0842397.


HOW HAS BITING SHAPED CRANIAL EVOLUTION IN ANGUILLIFORMS?

Anguilliforms (eels and their cousins) include roughly 600, mostly predaceous, species. Unlike most other fish which explosively expand the skull and buccal region to suck prey into the mouth, eel rely upon powerful bites from toothy jaws. Our lab is working with Rita Mehta (UC Santa Cruz) and Peter Wainwright (UC Davis) to study how the evolution of biting behavior (and the loss of suction feeding ability) has shaped cranial diversification in anguilliforms.

 

EVOLUTIONARY RELATIONSHIPS IN CAPUCHIN MONKEYS

 In this project, we are analyzing DNA sequencing and morphological data to determine evolutionary relationships in capuchin monkeys.

 

 

MEASURING THE TREE OF LIFE

With the increasing abundance of phylogenetic information from the tree of life, it is essential that phylogenetic comparative methods keep pace with the data deluge. Described here are several data-driven methods for identifying groups of organisms that are evolutionarily exceptional in regard to trait and lineage diversification.  Software developed through this project include MEDUSA, Turbo-MEDUSA, Fossil-MEDUSA, MECCA, and AUTEUR. For more details see their full site here.