My research focuses on the evolution of morphological diversity and I take several different approaches to address questions about trait evolution over time and space.1. First, phylogenetics forms the foundation of my research: a phylogeny is a necessary component of my research so that phylogenetic history can be corrected for during statistical analysis of trait evolution.
2. Next, my research explores the link between form and function, which is crucial to understanding how morphological diversification occurs. Morphological diversity may be redundant in relation to function, that is, different morphological solutions may evolve to produce similar performance, yet, to test this hypothesis it needs to be determined exactly how form relates to function.
3. I make use of an excellent opportunity, the extensive fossil record in my study system, to examine shifts in morphological diversity and disparity over time.
4. Finally, the study of morphological evolution is confounded by distribution patterns. As part of my research, I examine the interplay between trait evolution and biogeography patterns.
The focus of my research is mostly on a group of unusual spiders, the palpimanoids, which have restricted distributions, exhibit strikingly deviant morphological, behavioral, and ecological traits, and are ancient lineages with an extensive fossil record. This group is excellent for addressing questions about how a specific trait functions, which in turn, may allow for examination of broader macroevolution questions about how these traits (as well as lineages) diversify. In particular, I am interested in the evolution of novel modifications of the cephalic area (the carapace) and chelicerae (“jaws”) within palpimanoids, which allow them to capture prey in innovative ways. While my research has focused on spiders, the questions I ask are universal to the field of evolutionary biology and can be applied to any organism.