Mark Westneat

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University of chicago
Organismal Biology and Anatomy
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Research Summary: 
There are three primary questions around which I build my research program: What is the tree of life? How do animals work? How is structural and functional diversity generated and maintained? In order to play a part in these fields of inquiry, the central goals of much of the research in my laboratory are (1) to resolve the phylogenetic relationships of major coral reef fish groups, (2) to investigate basic biomechanics and functional morphology in organisms, and (3) to integrate phylogeny with biomechanics to understand the evolution of function in diverse groups of organisms. This research focuses primarily on phylogenetic systematics and the study of function in an attempt to generate an integrative approach to evolution. We try to use a range of techniques and approaches to these questions, from the resolution of phylogenetic relationships among fishes using molecular phylogenetics, to computer modeling and detailed biomechanics of muscle-tendon-bone systems (e.g. feeding mechanics) in fishes, to field studies of ecological traits of animals (habitat, feeding biology), to the internal function of small animals using a novel method in high-energy physics called synchrotron imaging. Ideas and techniques are employed from the fields of comparative and functional morphology, phylogenetic systematics, mechanical engineering, muscle physiology, morphometrics, and field ecology. By integrating data from different aspects of the biology of a group of organisms, I hope to reveal a broader picture of the complex evolutionary history of a diverse taxonomic group or an interesting functional system than could be generated from any single discipline alone. Students are welcome in the laboratory, and have worked on a much wider range of questions and organisms (fossils, birds, insects, lizards, snakes, and more!). Most students working in the lab have a general interest in evolution, biomechanics, phylogenetics, fishes, coral reefs, and/or field work. Check out the pages on my Field Museum web site to see more detail on the projects going on in the Westneat Lab!
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Concordance and Discordance in the Phylogenomics of the Wrasses and Parrotfishes (Teleostei: Labridae). Syst Biol. 2022 Nov 04. View in: PubMed

Mosaic Evolution of the Skull in Labrid Fishes Involves Differences in both Tempo and Mode of Morphological Change. Syst Biol. 2022 Sep 16. View in: PubMed

Suction feeding of West African lungfish (Protopterus annectens): An XROMM analysis of jaw mechanics, cranial kinesis, and hyoid mobility. Biol Open. 2022 09 15; 11(9). View in: PubMed

Phylogenomics and body shape morphometrics reveal recent diversification in the goatfishes (Syngnatharia: Mullidae). Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2022 12; 177:107616. View in: PubMed

Burrowing constrains patterns of skull shape evolution in wrasses. Evol Dev. 2023 01; 25(1):73-84. View in: PubMed

The impact of paleoclimatic changes on body size evolution in marine fishes. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2022 07 19; 119(29):e2122486119. View in: PubMed

Air Breathing and Suction Feeding Kinematics in the West African Lungfish, Protopterus annectens. Integr Comp Biol. 2022 10 29; 62(4):865-877. View in: PubMed

Suction feeding biomechanics of Polypterus bichir: investigating linkage mechanisms and the contributions of cranial kinesis to oral cavity volume change. J Exp Biol. 2022 02 01; 225(3). View in: PubMed

Phylogeny of the damselfishes (Pomacentridae) and patterns of asymmetrical diversification in body size and feeding ecology. PLoS One. 2021; 16(10):e0258889. View in: PubMed

Wing Shape in Waterbirds: Morphometric Patterns Associated with Behavior, Habitat, Migration, and Phylogenetic Convergence. Integr Org Biol. 2021; 3(1):obab011. View in: PubMed

The Evolutionary Continuum of Functional Homodonty to Heterodonty in the Dentition of Halichoeres Wrasses. Integr Comp Biol. 2020 Sep 24. View in: PubMed

Pectoral fin kinematics and motor patterns are shaped by fin ray mechanosensation during steady swimming in Scarus quoyi. J Exp Biol. 2020 01 23; 223(Pt 2). View in: PubMed

Feeding kinematics and morphology of the alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula, Lac?p?de, 1803). J Morphol. 2019 10; 280(10):1548-1570. View in: PubMed

Do Coral Reefs Promote Morphological Diversification? Exploration of Habitat Effects on Labrid Pharyngeal Jaw Evolution in the Era of Big Data. Integr Comp Biol. 2019 09 01; 59(3):696-704. View in: PubMed

Functional morphology of endurance swimming performance and gait transition strategies in balistoid fishes. J Exp Biol. 2019 04 24; 222(Pt 8). View in: PubMed

Quantitative color profiling of digital images with earth mover's distance using the R package colordistance. PeerJ. 2019; 7:e6398. View in: PubMed

Burrowing fishes: Kinematics, morphology and phylogeny of sand-diving wrasses (Labridae). J Fish Biol. 2018 Nov; 93(5):860-873. View in: PubMed

Fins as Mechanosensors for Movement and Touch-Related Behaviors. Integr Comp Biol. 2018 11 01; 58(5):844-859. View in: PubMed

Feeding mechanics of teleost fishes (Labridae; Perciformes): A test of four-bar linkage models. J Morphol. 1990 Sep; 205(3):269-295. View in: PubMed

Feeding mechanism of Epibulus insidiator (Labridae; Teleostei): Evolution of a novel functional system. J Morphol. 1989 Nov; 202(2):129-150. View in: PubMed

The horizontal septum: Mechanisms of force transfer in locomotion of scombrid fishes (Scombridae, Perciformes). J Morphol. 1993 Aug; 217(2):183-204. View in: PubMed

Biomechanics of cranial kinesis in birds: Testing linkage models in the white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis). J Morphol. 1996 Mar; 227(3):305-320. View in: PubMed

A comparison of pectoral fin ray morphology and its impact on fin ray flexural stiffness in labriform swimmers. J Morphol. 2018 08; 279(8):1031-1044. View in: PubMed

The relationship between pectoral fin ray stiffness and swimming behavior in Labridae: insights into design, performance and ecology. J Exp Biol. 2018 01 09; 221(Pt 1). View in: PubMed

Phylogenomic analysis of a rapid radiation of misfit fishes (Syngnathiformes) using ultraconserved elements. Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2017 08; 113:33-48. View in: PubMed

Mechanosensation is evolutionarily tuned to locomotor mechanics. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Apr 25; 114(17):4459-4464. View in: PubMed

The evolution of jaw protrusion mechanics is tightly coupled to bentho-pelagic divergence in damselfishes (Pomacentridae). J Exp Biol. 2017 02 15; 220(Pt 4):652-666. View in: PubMed

Linkage mechanisms in the vertebrate skull: Structure and function of three-dimensional, parallel transmission systems. J Morphol. 2016 12; 277(12):1570-1583. View in: PubMed

Evolutionary patterns of shape and functional diversification in the skull and jaw musculature of triggerfishes (Teleostei: Balistidae). J Morphol. 2016 06; 277(6):737-52. View in: PubMed

Skeletal light-scattering accelerates bleaching response in reef-building corals. BMC Ecol. 2016 Mar 21; 16:10. View in: PubMed

Phylogenetic relationships and the evolution of BMP4 in triggerfishes and filefishes (Balistoidea). Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2016 Jan; 94(Pt A):397-409. View in: PubMed

How fish power suction feeding. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Jul 14; 112(28):8525-6. View in: PubMed

A new species of Suezichthys (Teleostei: Perciformes: Labridae) from the south-eastern Pacific, with a redefinition of the genus and a key to species. Zootaxa. 2013; 3640:88-94. View in: PubMed

Phylotastic! Making tree-of-life knowledge accessible, reusable and convenient. BMC Bioinformatics. 2013 May 13; 14:158. View in: PubMed

Modulation of light-enhancement to symbiotic algae by light-scattering in corals and evolutionary trends in bleaching. PLoS One. 2013; 8(4):e61492. View in: PubMed

Shark tooth weapons from the 19th Century reflect shifting baselines in Central Pacific predator assemblies. PLoS One. 2013; 8(4):e59855. View in: PubMed

Dynamics of tracheal compression in the horned passalus beetle. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2013 Apr 15; 304(8):R621-7. View in: PubMed

Biodiversity inventories and conservation of the marine fishes of Bootless Bay, Papua New Guinea. BMC Ecol. 2012 Aug 01; 12:15. View in: PubMed

Systematics Agenda 2020: the mission evolves. Syst Biol. 2012 Jul; 61(4):549-52. View in: PubMed

Kinematics, dynamics, and energetics of rowing and flapping propulsion in fishes. Integr Comp Biol. 2002 Nov; 42(5):1032-43. View in: PubMed

Evolution of levers and linkages in the feeding mechanisms of fishes. Integr Comp Biol. 2004 Nov; 44(5):378-89. View in: PubMed

Synchrotron imaging of the grasshopper tracheal system: morphological and physiological components of tracheal hypermetry. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2009 Nov; 297(5):R1343-50. View in: PubMed

Form and function of damselfish skulls: rapid and repeated evolution into a limited number of trophic niches. BMC Evol Biol. 2009 Jan 30; 9:24. View in: PubMed

Exploring the radiation of a diverse reef fish family: phylogenetics of the damselfishes (Pomacentridae), with new classifications based on molecular analyses of all genera. Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2009 Jul; 52(1):1-16. View in: PubMed

Feeding biomechanics of juvenile red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) from the northwestern Gulf of Mexico. J Exp Biol. 2008 Dec; 211(Pt 24):3826-35. View in: PubMed

Correlated patterns of tracheal compression and convective gas exchange in a carabid beetle. J Exp Biol. 2008 Nov; 211(Pt 21):3409-20. View in: PubMed

Phylogenetic relationships and the evolution of regulatory gene sequences in the parrotfishes. Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2008 Oct; 49(1):136-52. View in: PubMed

Advances in biological structure, function, and physiology using synchrotron X-ray imaging*. Annu Rev Physiol. 2008; 70:119-42. View in: PubMed

Functional morphology of bite mechanics in the great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda). Zoology (Jena). 2008; 111(1):16-29. View in: PubMed

Zoology: twice bitten. Nature. 2007 Sep 06; 449(7158):33-4. View in: PubMed

Molecular phylogenetics of the butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae): taxonomy and biogeography of a global coral reef fish family. Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2007 Oct; 45(1):50-68. View in: PubMed

Feeding mechanics and bite force modelling of the skull of Dunkleosteus terrelli, an ancient apex predator. Biol Lett. 2007 Feb 22; 3(1):76-9. View in: PubMed

Real-time phase-contrast x-ray imaging: a new technique for the study of animal form and function. BMC Biol. 2007 Mar 01; 5:6. View in: PubMed

Pectoral fin coordination and gait transitions in steadily swimming juvenile reef fishes. J Exp Biol. 2006 Oct; 209(Pt 19):3708-18. View in: PubMed

Four-bar linkage modelling in teleost pharyngeal jaws: computer simulations of bite kinetics. J Anat. 2006 Jul; 209(1):79-92. View in: PubMed

Coordination of feeding, locomotor and visual systems in parrotfishes (Teleostei: Labridae). J Exp Biol. 2005 Sep; 208(Pt 18):3503-18. View in: PubMed

Local phylogenetic divergence and global evolutionary convergence of skull function in reef fishes of the family Labridae. Proc Biol Sci. 2005 May 22; 272(1567):993-1000. View in: PubMed

Phylogenetic relationships and evolutionary history of the reef fish family Labridae. Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2005 Aug; 36(2):370-90. View in: PubMed

Comparative and developmental functional morphology of the jaws of living and fossil gars (Actinopterygii: Lepisosteidae). J Morphol. 2006 Sep; 267(9):1017-31. View in: PubMed

Gene rearrangements and evolution of tRNA pseudogenes in the mitochondrial genome of the parrotfish (Teleostei: Perciformes: Scaridae). J Mol Evol. 2004 Sep; 59(3):287-97. View in: PubMed

Diversity of pectoral fin structure and function in fishes with labriform propulsion. J Morphol. 2005 Feb; 263(2):133-50. View in: PubMed

Relationships of the temperate Australasian labrid fish tribe Odacini (Perciformes; Teleostei). Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2004 Aug; 32(2):575-87. View in: PubMed

A biomechanical model for analysis of muscle force, power output and lower jaw motion in fishes. J Theor Biol. 2003 Aug 07; 223(3):269-81. View in: PubMed

Tracheal respiration in insects visualized with synchrotron x-ray imaging. Science. 2003 Jan 24; 299(5606):558-60. View in: PubMed

Phylogenetic relationships, evolution of broodcare behavior, and geographic speciation in the wrasse tribe Labrini. J Mol Evol. 2002 Dec; 55(6):776-89. View in: PubMed

Fluid dynamics of flapping aquatic flight in the bird wrasse: three-dimensional unsteady computations with fin deformation. J Exp Biol. 2002 Oct; 205(Pt 19):2997-3008. View in: PubMed

Evolution of behavior and neural control of the fast-start escape response. Evolution. 2002 May; 56(5):993-1007. View in: PubMed

Evolutionary history of the parrotfishes: biogeography, ecomorphology, and comparative diversity. Evolution. 2002 May; 56(5):961-71. View in: PubMed

Performance limits of labriform propulsion and correlates with fin shape and motion. J Exp Biol. 2002 Jan; 205(Pt 2):177-87. View in: PubMed

Comparative kinematics of the forelimb during swimming in red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta) and spiny softshell (Apalone spinifera) turtles. J Exp Biol. 2001 Oct; 204(Pt 19):3261-71. View in: PubMed

Modulation of prey capture kinematics in the cheeklined wrasse Oxycheilinus digrammus (Teleostei: Labridae). J Exp Zool. 2001 Jul 01; 290(2):88-100. View in: PubMed

Mechanical performance of aquatic rowing and flying. Proc Biol Sci. 2000 Sep 22; 267(1455):1875-81. View in: PubMed

Motor patterns of herbivorous feeding: electromyographic analysis of biting in the parrotfishes Cetoscarus bicolor and Scarus iseri. Brain Behav Evol. 1999 Oct; 54(4):205-22. View in: PubMed

Electromyographic analysis of oral habituation in rat pups. Physiol Behav. 1998 Jan; 63(2):197-203. View in: PubMed

Kinematics of birdsong: functional correlation of cranial movements and acoustic features in sparrows. J Exp Biol. 1993 Sep; 182:147-71. View in: PubMed

Ontogeny of feeding motor patterns in infant rats: an electromyographic analysis of suckling and chewing. Behav Neurosci. 1992 Jun; 106(3):539-54. View in: PubMed

Faculty title: 
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Faculty Education: 
College of Wooster, Wooster, OH, B.A. Biology 06/1984
Duke University, Durham, NC, Ph.D. Zoology 06/1990
Duke University, Durham, NC, Postdoctoral Neurobiology 10/1991
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Currently accepting students.
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