Hannah measuring flow in a flooded stream after a storm

Our lab is interested in animal form and function, or how what an animal looks like affects what it can do. We combine approaches from physiology, biomechanics, ecology, and evolution to understand how animals interact with and survive in their environments. Our main research theme is understanding not only how each part of an animal functions, but how these parts work together for potentially new functions. Our main interest has been with interactions between the body (swimming) and head (feeding) during prey capture in fishes, including marine sculpins, freshwater sunfish, and Trinidadian guppies.


As you might imagine, having to do two things at once is harder than doing either thing individually and solving this problem can affect how animals interact with each other and their environment. Think about it this way - have you ever tried to walk and eat at the same time? If so you've noticed that perhaps you don't do either of those things as well as you would if you did them separately. Animals have the same problem. Many of them have to eat other animals to survive but those organisms have strategies for escaping capture. This means predators can't usually just bite their prey, they have to chase it first using their body, legs, wings, fins, etc. But, to actually grab their prey once they are close enough, they use other body parts such as their mouth or tongue. The predator has to coordinate its body and head movements to make sure it's head is in the right place when it's mouth opens. If not, it risks missing the prey, like in the video traces of a bluegill below, and consequences could range from using more energy to continue hunting to starvation if food is hard to find. 

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Tracings from video frames of the side and bottom view of a bluegill sunfish chasing a small fish prey (green)

The ability to coordinate between parts that typically perform different jobs (body and head) is hard to predict because behaviors can be flexible. For example, a predator that chases a prey might coordinate differently than one that waits for prey to come close enough on its own. We're interested in figuring out when and how predators rely on these interactions and how this integration of parts affects how they survive. Since parts have to work together, changes in one part can have consequences for how other parts can change, or how parts can work together. This means that understanding these interactions can tell us a lot about how animals work and how they may be able to adapt to new or changing environments.

To learn more about our work and find our published papers, look for Emily Kane on GOOGLE SCHOLAR