Research

I am broadly interested in using phylogenetic, morphological, and functional approaches to understand the patterns and processes shaping the remarkable diversity of fishes.

Syngnathus leptorhynchus  (Bay pipefish) from Bodega Bay

Syngnathus leptorhynchus (Bay pipefish) from Bodega Bay

My current focus is on the Syngnathiformes (e.g. seahorses and pipefish), a group of fishes with unusual and novel modes of locomotion, reproduction, and feeding. Recent work in other labs has indicated that seahorses and pipefishes feed using a novel elastic recoil mechanism. As part of my dissertation, I plan to investigate this feeding mechanism in more detail and to characterize its phylogenetic distribution in order to understand the morphological changes underlying the evolution of this
functional innovation and how it has shaped the evolutionary history of the Syngnathiformes.

infile.nex.con.treA well-resolved phylogeny is essential for asking macroevolutionary questions about syngnathiform evolution and an important component of my research is the construction of phylogenetic trees using cutting-edge methods. Currently, I am combining increased sampling and a phylogenomic approach using ultraconserved elements (UCEs) to resolve the problematic relationships among major syngnathiform clades.

 

Posterior view of the branchial arterial vasculature of the paddlefish, Polyodon spathula

Posterior view of the branchial arterial vasculature of the paddlefish, Polyodon spathula

I am also generally interested in character evolution, especially within fishes, but also across vertebrates. For instance, my undergraduate research in Dr. Amy R. McCune’s lab at Cornell University reevaluated the homology of lungs and gasbladders (an air-filled organ found in most fishes) using evidence from arterial vasculature in early-branching bony fishes. In our paper we find that vestigial pulmonary arteries might have been overlooked in previous descriptions of critical taxa (paddlefish and sturgeon), because these arteries have been co-opted for new functions in these fishes. Ultimately, my work helped support the homology of pulmonary arteries between lobe-finned fishes that breathe air using a lung and the ray-finned fish Amia which breathes using a gasbladder, which in turn lends support to the homology of lungs and swimbladders.

Check out my research in the news and popular science here and here and here (page 9)!

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