How are patterns of species richness and morphological diversity explained?
My doctoral research in the Lovejoy Lab focuses on morphological trait evolution and macroecological trends in fish systems. Both durophagous and freshwater stingray taxa provide two unique evolutionary study systems in which to examine patterns and processes underlying evolution, morphological adaptation and macroecology. In addition, the limitations of a cartilaginous, rather than an ossified or bony skeleton, provide an additional avenue of interest from purely a biomechanical or anatomical focus. The subsequent rationale for each chapter of the proposed dissertation will hopefully outline questions of interest as well as the relative adequacy of these taxa for testing such hypotheses.
Broadly, I focus on the following questions/themes in evolutionary ecology and morphology:
(a) How are predator morphologies and behaviors shaped by the material characteristics of their prey?
(b) Do specialized feeding niches (insectivory, durophagy, planktivory) correspond with novel morphological configurations?
(c) Do transitions into novel environments (ecological opportunity) accelerate rates of evolution (both molecular and/or morphological)?
(d) What is the relationship between adaptive radiation and morphological diversification?
How do animals with "soft" or technically, ductile, skeletons crush "hard" prey like shellfish? Did you know that cartilaginous fishes have flexible skeletons? Did you know that some stingrays eat oysters, clams, maybe even giant conchs? Check it out!
How does the cranial myology (muscular anatomy of the head) of the chondrichthyan fishes change throughout time? How do stingrays move their mouths relative to their skull and how does this
compare to sharks? Or weirder still - how do sharks and rays compare to their sister taxon, the ratfishes or chimaeras?