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Vertebrate design is complex, often elegant, and sometimes remarkably precise. How such closely matched form and function of vertebrate structure might evolve represents one of the major unresolved issues within modern biology, leading to much misunderstanding about punctuated changes in phylogeny. In my laboratory, we take a holistic and comprehensive approach to the study of vertebrate organisms and their evolution. In particular, our study of the evolution of complex adaptations examines such issues within squamates, centered upon the complex snake jaw apparatus. Through the study of the snake jaw form, function, and
evolution, we have begun to understand the basic processes by which functionally integrated and complex designs evolve.

In examining the evolution of complex systems in squamates, we have used several approaches. Through ethological studies, we have examined the basic predatory behavior of snakes and the proximate role of sensory systems in releasing phases of the hunting behavior. Through pharmacological studies, we have examined the characteristics of venom systems in advanced snakes. Through experimental studies, we have examined the relationship between jaw structure and its biomechanical and functional performance. These approaches have permitted the formulation of hypotheses concerning the adaptive steps in
the evolution of advanced snakes, and identification of the more general evolutionary processes they illustrate.

Besides collaboration with colleagues in North America, my laboratory cooperates with laboratories with similar interests in Europe (Netherlands, Belgium, France) and occasionally with colleagues within Japan and China. Student colleagues and visiting researchers in my laboratory are partners in this research interest, and share in its intellectual development.