Because animals must catch and handle prey, traits associated with feeding are important, and expected to evolve through natural selection. The evolution of feeding traits is thought to be responsible for facilitating the evolution vertebrates, especially fishes and their relatives. Biting/crushing and ram/suction are two suites of fundamentally different, yet equally prominent feeding behaviors in these animals. Studies of actinopterygians and elasmobranchs, two major and well-studied groups of aquatic vertebrates, suggest that species specialized in ram or suction have flexible. producible jaws, and stealthy attack behaviors. Species that are specialized for biting or crushing tend to have enlarged muscles, reinforced skeletons, and robust teeth. However, these trends have been inferred without considering a third group of aquatic vertebrates, the Chimaeroidei. These are an ancient group of fishes that have dealt with the problem of biting and crushing by evolving beak-like tooth plates and an upper jaw secondarily fused to the neurocranium - traits consistent with those seen in other aquatic vertebrates. It has been suggested that the most recently evolved members of the chimaeroids are suction feeders, yet these animals retain the morphology of their biting/crushing ancestors. This study will experimentally investigate the performance and function of feeding mechanisms in this third group of aquatic vertebrates. As there is substantial information on the other two major groups of aquatic vertebrates, this study will provide pivotal information regarding the origin and evolution of the vertebrate feeding mechanism.
This work integrates Biology and Engineering principles, and will be conducted at a minority serving institution. It will include the training of both undergraduate and graduate students in research, many of whom will be from groups underrepresented in Biology. Students will be trained in state-of-the-art techniques for assessing morphology and performance, as well as the integration of Biology and Engineering.