Research vision for Year 1
I have several (perhaps ambitious) ideas for how research in the lab will start. Because it's a lot all at once, I am letting serendipity help a little. Here's an outline of how the lab is beginning to manifest itself:
I am fish-sitting a mudskipper until the end of the summer. These are amphibious fishes, and are perhaps the most terrestrial modern fishes when you exclude amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, which are technically Sarcopterygian fishes. By watching this fish eat, I began to think about how the media in which it is doing so might affect coordination between locomotion and feeding. For instance, gravity is much more influential in air than in water, and this may result in a different contribution of the locomotor system. Krijn Michel has already shown that feeding can be different, and that mudskippers have a really cool "hydrodynamic tongue" that they use to suction feed on land, but how is the locomotor system involved? Since I have a sample size of 1 fish currently, and I managed to recruit an undergraduate with an interest in this idea (Emily Mahoney), I thought it might be worth at least getting some preliminary video of locomotion during prey capture. Her first steps are going to be to film the fish feeding in two environments and analyze the locomotor structures being used as well as the resulting kinematics. This will probably lead into a larger project at some point (and grants??), but for now it's something that will keep her busy for a few months.
In researching Georgia Southern for my interview, I became really interested in the Fall Line, and the geographic division between the rolling hills of the Piedmont and the flat Coastal Plain. I have also always had a soft spot for Centrarchids, the group of fishes that include bluegill, basses, crappie, and many of the freshwater fishes that people like to catch in South Georgia. I have also always wanted to do a large-scale phylogenetic analysis of integration, across a whole clade of fishes. Since about 75% of Centrarchids can be found in Georgia, and some of them are only found on one side or the other of the Fall Line, this is the perfect place to explore patterns in this group, particularly in respect to local adaptation, swimming performance, and integration. To get started, I have recruited 2 undergraduates (Alli and Abby Wallace, they're twins!) to start comparing body and fin morphology in some photographs I took several years ago. This will help us make some hypotheses that can then be tested with local fishes. I also recruited a graduate student to help me get started on finding, collecting, and filming fish. Most of this work probably won't take shape until Fall or Spring of next academic year.
The natural transition has been to continue working with guppies. I had some issues with sample size with a single population of guppies from my postdoc work, and unfortunately I had to wait to finish this up until after the move to Georgia. I also want to establish the guppy kit program here in South Georgia, so I need fish to set up a breeding colony for that work as well. Originally I was planning on a quick trip to Trinidad, hopefully when other people were also there so I could collaborate on sample sites to contribute and borrow some hands. I heard that several lab groups were going to be in Trinidad over my Spring Break, so that sounded like the perfect opportunity to collect a handful of fish to bring back. However, as the trip got closer, I realized that if I was going, I should get enough to keep the lab occupied for a while, and provide seed data for a grant or two. After all, this is what start-up money is for. I immediately knew what project I would want to do - rearing lab-born babies from wild-caught females and testing their integration to determine if this trait is possibly heritable - but it would require a greater effort, and would restrict how much I could piggy-back off of other lab groups, so I needed a field assistant to go with me. I asked Emily Mahoney and she was more than happy to give up her spring break to join me. A post on our trip will be available soon. I also now need a more significant animal care effort in the lab, and have fish that can be used for a variety of small undergraduate projects. I have hired undergraduate Elizabeth Young as a lab technician to help me set up the lab and fish room. Additionally, undergraduate Lydia Bonnell will begin helping with animal care this semester while developing questions to pursue for her honors thesis next year.
During my interview, I remember Jamie Roberts asking me "So if you come here, what will your first research project be?" I told him it would be with Centrarchids since, at the time, that seemed like a logical step that could connect my PhD and Postdoc research areas, and the job ad specifically stated an interest in someone utilizing the Coastal Plain ecosystem. However, I didn't anticipate that a year later I would have this many irons in the fire, and that the one that actually ended up being the first project was only baby steps away from my postdoctoral work. My department chair has made it clear that he leaves room for serendipity in his expectations, but hopefully a new graduate student will help keep me accountable for the Centrarchid work! Follow along on our blog, Biomechanics in the Boro, as I post updates on these (and likely other!) projects.