Research

Our lab is focused on understanding the evolution of functional diversity. Specifically, we measure whole-organismal performance traits at varying taxonomic scales, from within individuals to across species. We incorporate predictors of performance, morphology and size as well as various statistical methods. The research in the lab has spanned from studies of growth and development in lizard embryos, to the effects of sexually selected traits on performance to diversity in feeding mechanisms. We are mainly focused on fish and praying mantises to a lesser degree. We are not currently conducting research on lizards. Below are brief descriptions of current and future research projects in the lab. The lab page has more information on specific performances measured, equipment and statistics used.

The evolution of locomotor diversity among fish.

Figure 1 from Oufiero and Whitlow 2016, Current Zoology.

Fish are remarkable in the amount of diversity in the number of species, body shapes and the way they generate thrust. We use an integrative and comparative approach to understand the factors that influence swimming performance diversity among fish based on the  figure to the left (Oufiero and Whitlow 2016). This has included investigations into the effects of sexually selected exaggerated morphologies  (Oufiero et al. 2012, 2014), community composition (Oufiero et al. 2011) and more recently locomotor gaits (Oufiero et al. in prep, Whitlow et al. in prep). In collaboration with Jay Nelson’s lab, we have the ability to examine many aspects of swimming performance, from c-start escape responses, to sprint speeds, to endurance, to oxygen consumption and various aspects of energetics. We also examine the kinematics of steady swimming including fin beat amplitudes and frequencies (Oufiero et al. 2014). We are currently working on protocols to test maneuverability in fish. Projects in the lab are currently focused on examining the effect of ecological variation on swimming performance, kinematics and energetics in cichlids; muscle fiber type determination and links to swimming performance and continuing to explore how the evolution of novel swimming gaits affects performance.

Patterns of Diversity in Feeding Performance

The lab has collaborated on several projects investigating suction feeding performance in fish (Oufiero et al. 2012, McGee et al. 2015, Longo et al. 2016). We are continuing to expand on these studies by examining feeding performance in more basal groups of fish, such as some Osteoglossiformes; and examining the effect of environmental variability on the plasticity of feeding performance. We have also begun to explore feeding performance in other groups, and have become interested in praying mantis feeding strikes (Oufiero et al. 2016). We are hoping to expand these studies to examine the patterns of variation in praying mantis feeding across ontogeny, across species, and further investigating the relationship between visual ability and feeding strike kinematics.

The effects of sexual selection on morphology, performance, behavior and fitness

The lab is continuing its investigations into the relationships between sexual selection and performance. We previously examined whether the sexually selected sword in Xiphophorus fish resulted in a locomotor cost, and found minimal effects. We recently finished examining the relationship between locomotor performance and female preference in X. montezumae. We are planning to expand these studies to determine the relationship between the morphology of X. montezumae, its locomotor performance and fitness through survival trials with natural predators and through mating success using paternity testing. We are currently rearing up more X. montezumae for these studies.