What is Functional Morphology? Quite simply, it is the study of organism structure (i.e., anatomy) and function (e.g., how it works in a particular context). Understanding the basic structure and function of organisms is one of the oldest areas of research pertaining to the natural world. We are, quite simply, fascinated with how animals work. Research in our Lab is centered around understanding function in an ecological or historical (evolutionary) context.
Why fish? Fish have been the ecological dominants in aquatic habitats pretty much since complex life evolved on this planet. Aquatic habitats are diverse, and as a consequence fishes as a group exhibit an incredibly rich suite of forms as necessary to meet the challenges faced in these different habitats. A quote by noted Ichthyologist Gene Helfman effectively sums up why we are passionate about fishes: “Fishes are excellent showcases of the evolutionary process, exemplifying the intimate relationship between habitat and adaptation, between form and function.” Our research tends to focus in particular on traits associated with the evolution of jaws and aquatic prey acquisition. Jaws evolved early in the vertebrate lineage, namely in our fishy ancestors, and have persisted in all extant vertebrates to date. Fishes are the most successful and diverse group of vertebrates on the planet, and much of this success has been attributed to specific jaw innovations.
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