Blogs & Videos: Sciences

Biomechanics and Evolution of Fish Locomotion

A major research focus of my laboratory is the locomotor biology of fishes that generate forward propulsion by oscillating and undulating the fins. We ask the questions: How are fishes designed to swim efficiently and with such high maneuverability? How are the muscle-tendon-bone systems that provide thrust coordinated by neuromotor control? How has locomotion evolved in complex 3-dimensional coral reef environments? Techniques used in locomotor biomechanics include kinematics, electromyography, sonomicrometery, and modeling of the biomechanics and hydrodynamics of locomotion.

Biomechanics and Evolution of Fish Feeding

Fish feeding biology is a well-established model system for the study of biomechanics, physiology, and comparative diversity. In this lab, we are developing biomechanical models of complex feeding movements in coral reef fishes to test new hypotheses for the mechanism of jaw opening and upper jaw protrusion in fishes. Models include four mechanisms of feeding mechanics in seven labrid fish species (Westneat 1990; 1994), the highlight of which is the spectacular jaw mechanism of the sling-jaw wrasse (Westneat 1991). In addition to proposing novel feeding mechanisms, this research allowed an evolutionary analysis of biomechanics in fishes (Westneat, 1995).

Phylogenetic Systematics of Coral Reef Fishes

A major challenge in biology is the resolution of phylogenetic relationships among diverse clades of fishes inhabiting coral reefs around the world.  Collections are obtained through an active field program of visiting coral reefs in the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Australia, and Pacific Islands, as well as the Caribbean, collecting fishes using SCUBA diving, nets and working with fishermen.  Phylogenetic systematics is the generation of molecular and morphological data from those collections, followed by large-scale data analysis to yield phylogenetic trees, which represent our best estimate of the family tree of relationships among fish species. Generating phylogenetic trees is one of the most useful and exciting areas in biology today.