Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Major Professor

Brian O'Meara

Committee Members

James Fordyce, Benjamin Fitzpatrick, Benjamin Keck


One of the central issues limiting progress towards a generalized theory of biological organization involves integrating the interplay of current ecological conditions with long-term macroevolutionary dynamics. Trophic ecology has long been known to be a strong force in shaping biological diversity for all organisms, with its central tenet being the procurement of resources for survival. Though trophic ecology is well known to effect evolutionary trajectories, few studies have explicitly tested hypotheses related to the effects of diet on macroevolutionary patterns at deep phylogenetic scales. Here, I investigate the interaction between trophic ecology and macroevolution using acanthomorph fishes as a model.My first two chapters introduce R packages that were used to conduct the research in chapters three and four. In my first chapter I introduce a new R, AnnotationBustR, which extracts sequences from GenBank annotations. The second chapter highlights dietr, an R package that calculates fractional trophic levels from quantitative and qualitative diet data. Chapter three investigates the effect of trophic level and diet breadth in promoting or constraining phenotypic evolution and functional diversity in coral reef acanthomorphs. My final chapter test the macroevolutionary consequences of an evolutionary innovation related to trophic resource use, pharyngognathy, testing if it does in fact increase diversification rates and promote trophic evolution as previously hypothesized. Overall, my dissertation highlights how trophic specialists may not be constrained in their morphology and the importance of adequately testing proposed evolutionary innovations using phylogenetic comparative methods.


Portions of this document were previously published in Nature Ecology & Evolution

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