research

Research


We are interested in explaining the uneven distribution of diversity across the tree of life.
Our goal is to better understand the mechanisms that have shaped some lineages of organisms with tremendous success in terms of phylogenetic, morphological, functional, ecological and behavioral diversity, while other lineages show little variation. We have a unique perspective on the analysis of diversity patterns, because we combine phylogenetic inferences from living organisms with paleontological data across large temporal scales in order to gain a more integrative understanding of macroevolution. The dominant theme in our integrative approach to macroevolution is functional morphology.

Our work is founded on the idea that functional morphology is a key to a better understanding of the origins of diversity, because it establishes linkages between organismal structure, function, and major niche dimensions. Thus, we organize our research around the identification of general mechanisms that explain how physical requirements and environmental opportunities interact with the structures of specific functional systems to shape diversity. Our primary study system in this endeavor is the eye. We use functional analyses of eyes and optical modelling to guide the development of comparative data sets across several vertebrate radiations. The eye is composed of multiple constituents, such as retina, refractive system, and pupil shape, each with specific functional implications. As the physical requirements for vision are clearly defined, we can study morphological and functional adaptations to environments and behaviors that impose divergent physical challenges. Functionally relevant traits offer rich opportunities for tests of hypotheses about the causes of diversity and are the key to a better understanding of the dynamics between the environment and evolution.

Opportunities


Please contact me if you are a student at the Colleges, have a keen interest in evolutionary biology and functional morphology, and would like to get involved in our research. Undergraduate students in our lab usually work on one of the following three topics.

1) Analysis of morphological evolution. Students are measuring morphological traits in museum collections (e.g., LA County Museum of Natural History) and analyze the data from a functional and phylogenetic perspective.

2) Retina physiology and visualization. After the arrival of our new confocal laser scanning microscope we can analyze retina fine structure with traditional histology, stereology, and immunohistochemistry. In addition to lab work, students are involved in developing new visualization techniques of spatial distributions of cells across the retina.

3) Behavioral tests of visual performance. In order to groundtruth optical models we are carrying out experiments to determine the actual abilities of our study organisms.

All projects have a strong computational component.

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