This innovative collaborative project takes integrative, inter- and transdisciplanary approaches from the fields of evolution, development, biomechanics, engineering, and functional morphology, using experimentation and modeling to examine the function and evolution of a complex structure, the protrusible jaw of bony fishes. This feature is considered the major evolutionary innovation that allowed for the evolution of the diversity of fishes, which include more species than all other vertebrates together. Interestingly, not all fishes produce this complex feature in the same way. This project assesses how development may constrain or liberate the evolution of complexity and tests hypotheses about convergent function generated by divergent developmental mechanisms, and performance consequences. This proposal directly addresses the question of why certain forms repeat in nature, while others do not appear. This research will address the following questions: (1) How do different developmental mechanisms generate convergent function? (2) What is the performance advantage of upper jaw protrusion? (3) Are there performance consequences for the different underlying mechanisms? In answering these questions this research will determine the extent to which fishes are constrained by development, and how they may escape these constraints.
The Broader Impacts of this research are strong, including a PI that is a beginning investigator, one that is a member of a group underrepresented in Biology, and the training of diverse students, especially undergraduates at a Minority Serving Institution.