My lab is interested in the evolution of marine invertebrates. This subject allows us to address issues related to their biodiversity, phylogeny, ecology, biogeography, and conservation. Specifically, our present research combines the study of fossil evidence with molecular and morphological phylogenetics to gain insights into key evolutionary adaptations, relationships, and origins of decapod crustaceans. As part of this research, we have been developing and applying novel methods using next-generation technology. More recently, we have been using genomic methods to study the evolution of bioluminescence and light detection in the deep sea. Present awarded grants propose to study deep sea bioluminescence and the effects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on the Gulf of Mexico coastal and deep sea ecosystems.
The Tree of Life
The Tree of Life depicts the evolutionary history of all extant and extinct organisms over the history of Life on Earth. Currently, my lab is involved in several Tree of Life projects focused on decapod crustaceans (crab, shrimp and lobsters) and pancrustaceans (crustaceans + insects). We use morphological, molecular and paleontological data to generate a phylogeny from which we can make inferences about ecology, character evolution, diversification and origins.
Evolution of Decapod Crustaceans
Decapods--including crabs, shrimps, lobsters and crayfish--are among the most morphologically unique and economically important group of crustaceans. My lab uses traditional morphological and modern molecular techniques (including next-generation sequencing) to examine all aspects of decapod evolution. We are particularly interested in their biodiversity, phylogeny, ecology, biogeography, character evolution, and conservation. Fossil and geological data are used to estimate the divergence times and origins of major lineages.
Biodiversity and Conservation in Marine Caves
Anchialine caves represent a mysterious realm, ripe with novel life forms and undiscovered biodiversity. The anchialine habitat consists of tidally fluctuating surface pools and submerged cave passages that contain marine or brackish water. Biotic assemblages include a variety of unique and rare species, often endemic, and extremely relevant for studies in conservation and evolutionary biology. A complex community has thrived due to unique adaptations to low light and oxygen. My lab uses an integrated approach, combining taxonomic and genetic methods, to document the patterns and drivers of biodiversity which aid in the protection of this incredible habitat.
Visual Systems and Bioluminescence
In the deep sea, where sunlight cannot penetrate, bioluminescence is an essential survival tool. Over 700 genera contain bioluminescent species, 80% of which are marine and depend on the generation of light for communication, feeding and defense.
Little is known about the evolution of the visual and bioluminescent system at the molecular level. My lab is tracing the evolution of these systems in the marine environment. Our work focuses on identifying and studying the genes involved in vision and bioluminescence.