The research of my lab explores how morphological traits evolve. What are the developmental origins of morphological variation, and how is its expression controlled genetically? What are the implications of these processes for evolutionary change over short or long time scales? Genetic variation of morphological traits is based on genetic variation in the developmental processes that produce the traits. In turn, the genetic variation of morphological traits provides the potential for evolutionary change by selection or random drift. Our long-term goal is to achieve a quantitative understanding of these linkages of genetics, development, and evolution.
To approach this goal, we use the techniques of geometric morphometrics to measure variation in the size and shape of morphological structures. We combine these methods with the experimental protocols from quantitative and developmental genetics or with comparative approaches that take into account the phylogenetic structure of the data. In particular, we are interested in devising new approaches to extract developmental information from the special structure of morphometric data, for instance, the redundancy inherent in bilaterally symmetric body plans. We are also investigating complexes of characters that vary jointly in a coordinated fashion, because the patterns of variation in the final structures retain much information on the developmental processes that produced them. The search for new ways to extract such information has just begun, and there remains much opportunity for further exciting developments.
Members of the lab have used a wide range of different study systems. Much of the work in the lab has used Drosophila to study the genetic basis of variation in wing shape. Other projects use the skull and mandible of the mouse and other mammals. In collaborations with other labs, we conduct studies in a wide range of organisms, including humans.
Along with the development of new morphometric methods, providing software such as MorphoJ is an important aspect of the work of the lab, to make these methods widely available to the community.
For further information, see the lab web page: flywings.org.uk
Over my career, I have taught a wide range of courses centred on organisms (zoology, entomology) or concept- or methods-based couorses (systematics, evolution, morphometrics).
My main emphasis in teaching is in morphometrics. I teach an annual online course available to students at the University of Manchester and external participants from all over the world, which provides an introduction of the theory and practice of biological shape analysis (see more information on this course on the university web site or my course web page).
I also teach lectures, practicals and tutorials in the Anatomical Sciences programme and I take part in enquiry-based learning for dental students.
In addition to the teaching at the University of Manchester, I regularly teach workshops on geometric morpholometrics in various locations, worldwide. Many of these workshops are announced on the Stony Brook morphometrics web site and via the web site of Transmitting Science.