Structure, function, and evolution of sensory systems in marine invertebrates
Fundamental questions in the study of sensory systems include: 1) how do sensory systems function; 2) how do animals use sensory systems to meet their ecological needs; and 3) how do sensory systems evolve? To explore these questions, I use an integrative and comparative approach to study the structure and function of sensory systems in an evolutionary context in two unique groups of marine invertebrates. I study the relationships between structural, molecular, and functional complexities in the distributed visual systems of chitons. I have found that as the complexity of sensory structures increases, their molecular complexity decreases. In addition, the functional complexities of this system suggest that the distributed visual systems have evolved by modifying the ancestral sensory system to be useful for different visually guided behaviors. I also study the co-evolution of weaponry, armor, and sensory systems in snapping shrimp. To do this, I investigate the relationships between the force of snapping produced by the snapping claw, the protective qualities of their armor, the effect of the armor on their visual system, and compensatory strategies for reduced visual function such as central nervous system photoreception and heterospecific partnerships. I have discovered that the armor, which covers the head and eyes completely, is highly transmissive of light across the visible spectrum, but that the eyes are functional despite the presence of this armor. By studying the structure, function, and evolution of sensory systems and other complex traits, I can provide insights into how animals may use sensory systems to interact with their environments.