Research Interests

Are predators shaped by prey? How skull strength, tooth shape, and jaw function are adapted to prey material properties

... in pacus, piranhas, and their characiform allies

Interrelationships of the durophagous stingrays: modified from Naylor et al. 2012
Interrelationships of the durophagous stingrays: modified from Naylor et al. 2012

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) Does the evolution of specialized ecological niches coincide with evolution of 'extreme' morphologies?  


(c) Do transitions into novel habitats foster both molecular and/or morphological evolution?


(d) What is the relationship between adaptive radiation and morphological diversification? 


"Durus" Lt: meaning hard & "phagein" Gr: meaning, "to eat" Durophagous critters, crushing stuff, and the cranial anatomy with which to do so!

... feeding biomechanics, durophagy, insectivory, & ontogenetic scaling

Crushing 3D printed shells in a mechanical loading frame
Crushing 3D printed shells in a mechanical loading frame

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!

Comparative anatomy of sharks, rays, & ratfishes, oh my!

... evolution of anatomical structures

Aetobatus narinari -     cranial anatomy
Aetobatus narinari - cranial anatomy

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?