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.
Objectives: We are exploring the phylogenetic relationships of several major lineages of coral reef fishes in order to understand the causes and consequences of high biodiversity, molecular evolution, and the evolution of structure and function in these diverse groups. We use the phylogenies generated from both morphology and molecules to look at the evolution of characters such as biomechanics of the jaws for feeding, and functional morphology of locomotor structures.
Cooper, W. J., and M. W. Westneat. (2009). Form and function of damselfish skulls: rapid and repeated evolution into a limited number of trophic niches. BMC Evolutionary Biology 9:24.
Cooper, W. J., Smith, L. L. and M. W. Westneat. (2009). Exploring the radiation of a diverse reef fish family: Phylogenetics of the damselfishes (Pomacentridae), with new classifications based on molecular analyses of all genera. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution52: 1-16.
Smith, L. L.,Fessler, J. L., Alfaro, M. E., Streelman, J. T. and M. W. Westneat. (2008). Phylogenetic relationships and evolution of regulatory gene sequences in the parrotfishes. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 49: 136-152.
López, J. A., M. W. Westneat, and R. Hanel. 2007. The phylogenetic affinities of the mysterious anguilliform genera Coloconger and Thalassenchelys as supported by mtDNA sequences. Copeia 959-966.
Fessler, J. L. and M. W. Westneat. 2007. Molecular phylogenetics of the butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae): Taxonomy and biogeography of a global coral reef fish family. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 45, 50-68.
Westneat, M. W. and M. E. Alfaro. 2005. Phylogenetic relationships and evolutionary history of the reef-fish family Labridae. Molec. Phylog. Evol. 36: 370-390.
Westneat, M. W., M. E. Alfaro, P. C. Wainwright, D. R. Bellwood, J. R. Grubich, J. Fessler, K. D. Clements, and L. Smith. 2005. Local phylogenetic divergence and global evolutionary convergence of skull biomechanics in reef fishes of the family Labridae. Proc. Roy. Soc. B. 272: 993-1000.
Westneat, M. W. 1997. Family Labridae. The Western Central Pacific: FAO species identification sheets for fishery purposes. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Westneat, M.W. 1995a. Feeding, function, and phylogeny: Analysis of historical biomechanics and ecology in labrid fishes using comparative methods. Systematic Biology 44: 361-383.
Westneat, M.W. 1995b. Systematics and biomechanics in ecomorphology. Env. Biol. Fish 44:263-83.