My first-first author paper from my dissertation research titled “Body ram, not suction is the primary axis of suction feeding diversity in spiny-rayed fishes” is going to be published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. You can check out the advance online article here. This is a large comparative kinematics paper that grew out of work I was doing to figure out how exactly feeding in syngnathiforms is weird–or if it is even correct to think of it as weird! Specially, syngnathiforms like seahorses and pipefish do this movement called “pivot feeding” when they are capturing prey. Basically, they quickly rotate their entire heads upward towards the prey item, which brings the mouth closer to the prey even though the body is relatively motionless. Then they capture the prey at the last moment with fast and powerful suction. You can see an example of this behavior in one of my trumpetfish videos here. Specially I wanted to know exactly how pivot feeding in syngnathiforms is different from “normal” suction feeding and whether the amount of jaw ram used during pivot feeding is unusual or extreme, especially compared to other oddballs like the slingjaw wrasse. It turns out that pivot feeding does allow syngnathiforms to occupy the extreme jaw ram area of prey capture space, and trumpetfish and shrimpfish used the highest proportion of jaw in the entire dataset, even beating out the slingjaw wrasse.
I spoke about this work at SICB 2015 and JMIH 2015, and those that went to both talks will have noted how the focus of this project slowly changed as we realized that the data revealed new insights into prey capture behavior across all spiny-rayed fishes (acanthomorphs) and not just within syngnathiform fishes. For instance, we found that jaw ram is an important component of prey capture behavior for many fishes, including some fishes traditionally thought of as high suction feeders, such as sit-and-wait ambush predators. In fact, sit-and-wait ambush predators such as stonefish and frogfish had very similar prey capture behaviors despite not being closely related, meaning that his type of prey capture strategy is highly convergent across spiny-rayed fishes. This project reinforced for me why comparative biology is so exiting and such as powerful tool: instead of just describing something about the group of fish I am currently focused on, we were able to learn more about them and about the diversity of all suction feeding fishes.