PhD research at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
My previous research in amphibian paleontology showed me just how much there was to know about the osteology of living salamanders. My hope is that by better understanding the morphology, function, and diversity of modern salamanders we can more accurately identify them in the fossil record and gain a deeper sense of their evolutionary history.
Modern salamanders show not only a diversity of feeding strategies (hunting on land, or in water, or arboreally with projectile tongues), but also a certain flexibility throughout life. Among Caudata are groups that begin life in the water and remain there through sexual maturity, while others metamorphose and live their adult lives on land. Some groups have direct-development and never need to feed aquatically. This makes them an ideal group to study the mechanisms of feeding and how they are reflected in cranial morphology, in an effort to tease apart ecological and phylogenetic influences on skull shapes.
My dissertation research has focused on lineages with secondarily aquatic species, particularly the lungless salamander genus Eurycea. I am interested in how the skull shape differs in different lineages and the biomechanical consequences of those shape differences, as well as asking questions about the skull's material properties.