Dr. Matthew (Matt) Kolmann
I'm an NSF-funded Postdoctoral Research Fellow (PRFB) working at George Washington University with Dr. Patricia Hernandez, and in collaboration with the Smithsonian Natural History collections and the Royal Ontario Museum Department of Ichthyology. I am examining the evolution of serrasalmid fishes (piranhas, pacus, and their relatives), with particular focus on the modularity and function of the extremely capable feeding mechanism in these fishes. Serrasalmids feed on myriad prey made from diverse materials - chitinous insects, bony fish scales (and skeletons), fibrous fruit husks, and tough nuts and seeds. I am interested in how the skull and teeth mitigate feeding on such a diverse prey assemblage and how simple systems can lead to such diverse functional outcomes.
My post-doctoral research at Friday Harbor Labs (University of Washington) explores the form-function paradigm in diverse fish systems - from filter-feeding herring and anchovies, insect- and mollusk- feeding freshwater stingrays, and armored fishes! The major thrust of my research here at Friday Harbor Labs is examining broad trends in morphological and lineage diversification in fishes that have made evolutionary transitions from marine to freshwater habitats - fishes like drum, needlefishes, stingrays, pufferfishes, and sculpins. In the midst of these studies, Dr. Adam Summers and I also became interested in armored fishes - and whether this armor may have evolved to serve roles more varied than simply as defense against predation, and instead may serve as instruments to intimidate, attract, or frighten members of the same species.
I completed my PhD in the Ecology & Evolutionary Biology program at the University of Toronto, working with Dr. Nate Lovejoy, an expert on Neotropical fishes and comparative phylogenetics. My PhD work used stingrays as a model system to understand questions regarding the mechanisms driving and sustaining biodiversity. I use molecular systematics and comparative anatomy to examine the reasons for evolutionary disparity, novelty, and convergence. I examined how prey materials shape the evolution and appearance of their predators, focusing on molluscivory in rays you're probably familiar with: eagle rays, bat rays, and cownose rays - as well as a family you're probably not as familiar with, the potamotrygonid freshwater rays of South America. These rays are the only known insect-feeding stingrays in the world and they actually chew like mammals to eat those aquatic insects! I examined how the evolution of these sorts of dietary specializations has shaped the evolution of freshwater rays - whether the appearance, tempo, and pattern of feeding adaptation in these animals has altered the evolutionary trajectory of the family as a whole (it does).
I did my MSc at the Florida State Coastal & Marine Laboratory with Dr. R. Dean Grubbs and Dr. Greg Erickson, of FSU's Biological Sciences Department. My Master's thesis work at Florida State University investigated the anatomy and biomechanical function of the feeding in stingrays, particularly the cownose ray, Rhinoptera bonasus. I investigated developmental changes in cownose ray feeding performance (bite force generation) in order to understand how these ray's ability to feed on commercially-important bivalves (oysters & scallops) changes as they grow from juveniles to adults.
I'm interested in where biodiversity comes from and why some groups of animals look very different from each other, while species in other groups look overwhelmingly similar. I use fishes as study systems because given the 30,000+ species of fishes - odds are, if you want to study it, fishes do it. I use molecular phylogenies as frameworks for examining the evolution of traits, behaviors, and ecological roles. My research program spans the interface between ecology, evolution, material sciences, and comparative anatomy - and I welcome any student interested in these facets of biology to contact me.