I am interested in phenotypic integration, or covariation between traits due to shared genetic, developmental, and functional interactions between them. These shared genetic and developmental mechanisms, as well as shared functions, result in parallel or coordinated responses to forces such as selection, nutrition, or mechanical stress, both at evolutionary and developmental scales.
Evolution of the head and neck: My research generally focuses on the evolution of the head and neck. My dissertation focused on evolution of craniofacial and cervical structures in relation to locomotion and posture, and this work has been presented at the meetings of the Paleoanthropology Society, the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, and the American Association of Anatomists, among others. Parts of this research have been published at the Journal of Human Evolution, Anatomical Record, and Evolution.
Currently, I am working on projects related to the evolution of phenotypic integration in the cranium, including integration between soft and hard tissues and constraints associated with functions such as respiration.
Heritability and genotypic covariation in the vertebral column: Recently, I received funding from the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust to carry out a pilot project investigating heritability of vertebral morphology and genotypic covariation in the vertebral column. Typically, we interpret variability or lack of variability in vertebral number and function as reflecting constraints on vertebral evolution, though the underlying causes of those constraints are difficult to quantify and still under debate. Further, although we have estimates of phenotypic integration within and between vertebral elements, and we generally attribute these estimates to underlying genetic and developmental relationships, we don’t have any good estimates of the genetic component contributing to vertebral variation and covariation. Researchers have previously estimated phenotype-genotype concordance for the cranium and limb elements, but few studies have focused on the vertebral column, which has dozens of homologous elements, and which displays much more variable constraints than other regions of the body. This project aims to clarify these relationships in order to improve our understanding of the evolution of the vertebral column specifically, and to improve our understanding of the relationship of phenotypic integration to underlying genetic mechanisms more generally.