Interested by evolutionary convergence, I began studying morphology in planktivorous surgeonfishes (family Acanthuridae). Planktivory represents a fairly dramatic transition from herbivory, requiring species to swim in midwater, locating and capturing minuscule organisms. By modeling continuous character evolution, I was able to determine that, while surgeonfish are exhibiting convergence in certain traits, these species are under morphological constraints, preventing them from attaining optimal morphology given their pelagic-feeding lifestyle. For more detail, the paper can be found here.
This was a really interesting project to get involved in and it required me to spend time in research collections gathering data (which I thoroughly enjoy). Due to predation pressures, it is known that fishes will plastically alter their body morphology to outgrow gape-limited predators. Drawing a concrete connection between microevolutionary and macroevolutionary processes, this research showed that the evolution of dorsal and anal fin spines have resulted in deeper bodied fishes (likewise for pectoral spines and wider bodied fish)! The paper can be found here.
Scaling and Macroevolution
It is well known that changes in scaling can have large effects on the ecology of organisms. What isn’t known, however, is how body size influences macroevolution. My most recent research has been focused on teasing apart some of these effects across reef fishes. I’m really excited about this project and looking forward to sharing more information as the research develops.