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January 25, 2021

12:00pm Zoom Webinar

Rita Mehta
University of California, Santa Cruz

" Feeding Specializations: testing Anatomy, Behavior, and Performance "

Comparative studies on the evolution of dietary specialization in animals provides rich examples of morphological, behavioral and functional diversity. Durophagy, the ability to consume hard-bodied prey, is an especially interesting dietary specialization that has evolved in many vertebrate groups including cartilaginous and bony fishes, squamate reptiles, and mammals. Across this variety of taxonomic groups, durophagy necessitates a consistent suite of morphological adaptations for meeting the extreme functional demands of extracting prey encased in calcified armor. My research program investigates moray eels, a species rich group of marine predators whose members have independently evolved durophagous habits. In this research program my team explored morphological and functional convergence in the durophagous diet and uncover the surprising anatomical and behavioral differences between durophagous morays and those that feed on more elusive prey. These insights expand our understanding of the durophagous diet and show how dietary specialization may facilitate novel behavior patterns and broader use of the environment.

Host: Nandita Garud