Evolutionary & Functional Morphology


Welcome to the web-home of the Collar Lab at CNU!

Interests & Objectives:  We are a group of evolutionary biologists and functional morphologists fascinated by the great variety of vertebrate organisms. We aim to identify general patterns in vertebrate diversification and to understand the processes that give rise to them. Why have some groups evolved species that are morphologically disparate while others are made up of species that have remained similar during evolution? Why do some forms evolve repeatedly while others arise only rarely? What are the roles of ecological and functional constraints in generating these patterns?

Study Systems:  We are broadly interested in how organisms work and evolve, and welcome students with any taxonomic interest. However, most of the work in the lab focuses on teleost fishes and squamates (lizards and snakes).  

Research Methods:  We combine functional morphology and phylogenetic methods.

Functional morphology:  We measure structural and functional traits in species to determine how differences in musculo-skeletal form translate into variation in movement and performance. We use specimen-based methods (such as clearing and staining of whole prepared specimens, dissection, and radiography) as well as techniques for measuring in vivo function (like high speed video analysis of animal movement).,

Phylogenetic methods:  We reconstruct phylogenetic relationships among species as the basis for making inferences about how organismal diversity has evolved. We use molecular sequence data to estimate phylogeny (shared evolutionary history among species) and then fit models to species data to reconstruct the evolutionary process. These methods are computationally intensive and often involve the statistical computing environment R.

Past & Ongoing Projects:  To read more about our work, visit the Teleost Fish Research and Lizard Research pages.

Interested in joining us?  Email David Collar ( for more information on research opportunities in the lab.