Deep-Time Morphological Evolution
Determining the causes and drivers of evolutionary dynamics is central to our understanding of life on Earth. What factors shaped the modern biota? Why did some groups go extinct, whilst others survived and radiated? Why are some groups so much more diverse than others? What will happen to organisms as the Earth continues to warm up? Many of these questions have inspired scientists for centuries, with foundational work in developmental biology, comparative anatomy, palaeontology, and geology providing provocative hypotheses that still influence current research on organismal evolution. New sources of data, however, from recent advances in molecular biology, computing, and imaging, as well as increasingly sophisticated quantitative methods, have provided unprecedented ability to test these hypotheses rigorously. In my lab, we conduct cutting-edge analyses of morphological rates and disparity in a phylogenetic framework to reconstruct the tempo and mode of evolution through deep time with complex, multivariate data on phenotype. Ranging from cladistic (discrete) data analyses of basal placental mammals to body size analyses ranging from carnivorans to sloths to basal placentals to to ongoing high-density 3-D surface morphometric analyes across all tetrapods, we take advantage of new developments in data collection and analysis, as well as developing new methods, to robustly reconstruct the morphological evolution of diversity. We further use these tools to understand the drivers of morphological evolution, including developmental constraints, ecological correlates of morphology, functional effects of morphological change, extinction selectivity, and adaptive radiations.
The following images link to some of our recent papers on vertebrate morphological evolution: