The ability to direct movement through the environment is one of the hallmarks of animal biology. Movement enables organisms to acquire food, avoid becoming food, and find and attract mates. The incredible range in animal size, evolutionary origin, and environmental pressures to do these things most optimally has led to a wide variety in locomotor design and performance range. Yet, most of these designs are built from a very similar set of of biological components. I am generally interested in the identity of mechanisms that allow(ed) this variation in design and performance to evolve in phylogenetically distinct species, but have currently focused my work on mechanisms that control phenotypic plasticity in design and performance within single species. Interestingly, our recent work has demonstrated that at least one of these mechanisms is highly conserved across evolutionarily distant animal species.
Current work in the lab aims to determine (1) how skeletal muscles respond to changes in body weight (loading, natural growth), dietary input, environmental factors (including infectious disease) and (2) how these factors interact to determine ultimate locomotor phenotypes observed in nature, across an evolutionarily diverse set of animal species. Our work requires a multi-disciplinary approach, combining techniques from biomechanics and electrophysiology, behavioral ecology, ecological and molecular physiology, and broad sense functional genomics: