Mark Westneat, PhD

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!

Duke University
Durham, NC
Postdoctoral - Neurobiology
1991

Duke University
Durham, NC
Ph.D. - Zoology
1990

College of Wooster
Wooster, OH
B.A. - Biology
1984

Wing Shape in Waterbirds: Morphometric Patterns Associated with Behavior, Habitat, Migration, and Phylogenetic Convergence.
Baumgart SL, Sereno PC, Westneat MW. Wing Shape in Waterbirds: Morphometric Patterns Associated with Behavior, Habitat, Migration, and Phylogenetic Convergence. Integr Org Biol. 2021; 3(1):obab011.
PMID: 34381962

The Evolutionary Continuum of Functional Homodonty to Heterodonty in the Dentition of Halichoeres Wrasses.
Cohen KE, Weller HI, Westneat MW, Summers AP. The Evolutionary Continuum of Functional Homodonty to Heterodonty in the Dentition of Halichoeres Wrasses. . 2020 Sep 24.
PMID: 32970795

The Evolutionary Continuum of Functional Homodonty to Heterodonty in the Dentition of Halichoeres Wrasses.
Cohen KE, Weller HI, Westneat MW, Summers AP. The Evolutionary Continuum of Functional Homodonty to Heterodonty in the Dentition of Halichoeres Wrasses. Integr Comp Biol. 2020 Sep 24.
PMID: 32970795

Pectoral fin kinematics and motor patterns are shaped by fin ray mechanosensation during steady swimming in Scarus quoyi.
Aiello BR, Olsen AM, Mathis CE, Westneat MW, Hale ME. 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).
PMID: 31862848

Pectoral fin kinematics and motor patterns are shaped by fin ray mechanosensation during steady swimming in Scarus quoyi.
Aiello BR, Olsen AM, Mathis CE, Westneat MW, Hale ME. Pectoral fin kinematics and motor patterns are shaped by fin ray mechanosensation during steady swimming in Scarus quoyi. J Exp Biol. 2019 Dec 20.
PMID: 31862848

Do Coral Reefs Promote Morphological Diversification? Exploration of Habitat Effects on Labrid Pharyngeal Jaw Evolution in the Era of Big Data.
Evans KM, Williams KL, Westneat MW. Do Coral Reefs Promote Morphological Diversification? Exploration of Habitat Effects on Labrid Pharyngeal Jaw Evolution in the Era of Big Data. . 2019 09 01; 59(3):696-704.
PMID: 31199432

Do Coral Reefs Promote Morphological Diversification? Exploration of Habitat Effects on Labrid Pharyngeal Jaw Evolution in the Era of Big Data.
Evans KM, Williams KL, Westneat MW. 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.
PMID: 31199432

Feeding kinematics and morphology of the alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula, Lacépède, 1803).
Lemberg JB, Shubin NH, Westneat MW. Feeding kinematics and morphology of the alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula, Lacépède, 1803). J Morphol. 2019 10; 280(10):1548-1570.
PMID: 31385619

Functional morphology of endurance swimming performance and gait transition strategies in balistoid fishes.
George AB, Westneat MW. Functional morphology of endurance swimming performance and gait transition strategies in balistoid fishes. J Exp Biol. 2019 04 24; 222(Pt 8).
PMID: 30962280

Quantitative color profiling of digital images with earth mover's distance using the R package colordistance.
Weller HI, Westneat MW. Quantitative color profiling of digital images with earth mover's distance using the R package colordistance. PeerJ. 2019; 7:e6398.
PMID: 30775177

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