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​​Resea​rch Interests

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 Decapod 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, the CRUSTOMICS lab is involved in several Tree of Life projects focused on decapod crustaceans (crab, shrimp and lobsters) and pancrustaceans (crustaceans + insects).  The lab uses  morphological, molecular, and fossil data to build phylogenies from which we can make inferences about ecology, character evolution, diversification and origins.  To date, we have published over 30 studies exploring the evolution of these important groups and this continues to be a driving force in our lab. 

Photo by Bracken-Grissom

Bioluminescence and Vision in the Deep Sea


​In the twilight zone (~200m-1000m), where sunlight is limited, 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 bioluminescence and vision in the deep sea at the molecular level.  The CRUSTOMICS lab is studying the evolution and function of light organs and visual systems to better understand these fascinating sensory systems.  

Photo by S. Johnsen


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.

Photo by G. Balazs & B. Lerner

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