We study evolution and embryos in the context of development and organogenesis, tetrapods, skeletal morphology, adaptation, coral reef fishes, and marine ecology.

And we love to collaborate with: paleontologists, systems biologists, physicists, geneticists, and ecologists.

This openness has led to some very cool discoveries and publications:

Embryonic horses have five toes! And so do most other digit-reduced tetrapods.    Kavanagh, KD, Bailey, CS, Sears, KE, 2020.  Evidence of five digits in embryonic horse limbs and developmental stabilization of tetrapod pentadactyly. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 287:20192756.    New York Times article: A Horse Has Five Toes and Then It Doesn’t  https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/08/science/horses-toes-hooves.html           

The earliest organ stages could help predict evolvability. Kavanagh, KD, 2019. Developmental plasticity associated with early structural integration and evolutionary patterns: examples of developmental bias and developmental facilitation in the skeletal system. Evolution & Development. 

Cellular signaling centers might be an especially practical, flexible way to self-organize young embryos. Kavanagh, K.D., 2018.  Cellular signaling centers and the maintenance and evolution of morphological patterns in vertebrates. Ch. 6 in Evolutionary Cell Biology: Translating Genotypes into Phenotypes — Past, Present, Future.  Editors Brian K. Hall and Sally Moody.  CRC Press.

Interactions between growing teeth and the surrounding jawbone allow new types of cusp patterns, which are linked to adaptive radiations in rodents. Renvoise, E., Kavanagh, K.D., Lazzari, V., Häkkinen, TJ, Rice, R., Pantalacci, S, Salazar-Ciudad, I, Jernvall, J, 2017. Mechanical constraint from growing jaw facilitates mammalian dental diversity, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.114(35): 9403-9408.

An Encyclopedia for Evolution!  Kavanagh, K.D. 2016.  Modularity and Integration in Evo-Devo.  Chapter in The Encyclopedia of Evolution.  Elsevier Publ. 

A review of morphology of early stages in the diverse coral reef damselfish family. Kavanagh, K.D. and B. Frederich. 2015. Ontogeny and Early Life Stages in the Damselfishes.  Ch. 5 in The Biology of Damselfishes.  Springer Associates Publ. 

Sequentially forming structures such as limbs, phalanges, teeth, somites, and vertebrae follow the inhibitory cascade rule, where proportions are constrained to gradients predicted by developmental experiments, even in long series. Young, N.M., Winslow, B., Takkelapati, S, Kavanagh, K.D. 2015. Shared rules of development predict patterns of evolution in vertebrate segmentation.  Nature Communications. 

Variation in finger and toe proportions is constrained by development but can vary within an allowed suite of variations. Also, metapodials evolve and develop as separate modules.  Kavanagh, Shoval, Alon, Winslow, Leary, Kan, Tabin 2013. Developmental Bias in the Evolution of Phalanges. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110(45):18190-18195.

Embryonic muscle development stays steady even in extreme temperatures in a clownfish. Katherine Spendel thesis: Effect of temperature on embryonic development of a tropical fish: An investigation of embryonic myogenesis and gene expression in Amphiprion ocellaris 2013

Metatarsals and phalanges are different developmental modules. Dinosaur and bird toe proportions are correlated to body size and flight. Brian Leary thesis: Pedal digit form and function in the ancestors of birds. 2013 UMass Dartmouth.

Phenotype variations can be described mathematically by simple trade-off rules among archetypes. Shoval, Sheftel, Shinar, Hart, Mayo, Dekel, Kavanagh, and Alon, 2012. Evolutionary trade-offs, Pareto optimality, and the Geometry of Phenotype Space. 2012 Science, 336:1157-1160.

Evolutionary adaptation to local environments can occur in a few generations even under extremely low genetic diversity and sympatry. Kavanagh, K.D., Haugen, T.O., Gregersen, F., Jernvall, J., Vollestad, L.A., 2010.  Contemporary temperature-driven divergence in a Nordic freshwater fish under conditions considered to hinder adaptation.  BMC Evolutionary Biology.

Coral mass spawning once a year? Not in these corals who spawn all year round. Hellström, M., Kavanagh, K.D., Benzie, J.A., 2010. Multiple spawning events and sexual reproduction in the octocoral Sarcophyton elegans (Cnidaria: Alcyonacea) on Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef. Marine Biology. 227:1325-8.  

How do dispersed oceanic larvae of tropical marine fish and lobsters find reefs to settle on? A review.   Arvedlund, M., Kavanagh, K. 2009. The senses and environmental cues used by larvae of marine fish and crustacean decapods to find tropical ecosystems. Chapter 3.6. In: Ecological interactions between tropical coastal ecosystems. Springer.

Developmental rules bias evolutionary patterns in mammal teeth. Kavanagh, K.D., A.R. Evans, and J. Jernvall, 2007.  Predicting evolutionary patterns of mammalian teeth from development. Nature 449:427-432.

Description of the early stages of a damselfish important in many experimental studies. Murphy, B.F., J.M. Leis, and K.D. Kavanagh, 2007.  Larval development of Pomacentrus amboinensis (Perciformes: Pomacentridae), the Ambon damselfish. Journal of Fish Biology 71:569-584.

Dramatic trade-offs between individual growth rate and population density in a triggerfish species found on reefs around the globe.  Kavanagh, K.D. and Olney, J.E., 2006.  Ecological Correlates of Population Density and Behavior in the Black Triggerfish Melichthys niger (Balistidae).  Environmental Biology of Fishes 76(2-4):387-398.

Ectodin, an inhibitor of bone morphogenetic protein, is critical for robust spatial delineation of teeth and cusps. Kassai, Y., Munne, P., Hotta, Y., Penttilä, E., Kavanagh, K., Ohbayashi, N., Takada, S., Thesleff, I., Jernvall, J., and Itoh, N., 2005.   Regulation of Mammalian Tooth Cusp Patterning by Ectodin. Science 309(5743):2067-2070.

Juvenile fish living in the lagoon generally grow slower than on the outer reef, but storms wash in food (plankton), leading to boom and bust cycles of growth. Kavanagh, K.D., 2005. Boom-or-bust growth in the coral reef lagoon.  Marine Ecology Progress Series 286:307-310.

Natural selection against runaway growth (cancer) may have led to a fundamental developmental constraint on evolution. Kavanagh, K.D., 2003. A molecular switch between proliferation and differentiation, maintained by anti-cancer selection, imposes a developmental constraint on ontogenetic rates and morphological evolution.   Evolution 57(5):939-948.

Sensory and skeletal trait development shows overall trends within the diverse damselfish family related to hatch and settlement timing, but individual systems can break trends and alter developmental rates to meet specific functional need. Kavanagh, K.D. and R.A. Alford, 2003. Sensory and skeletal development and growth in relation to the duration of the embryonic and larval stages in damselfishes (Pomacentridae). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 80:187-206. 

Taxonomic report on freshwater fishes collected during an amazing field expedition. Specimens were split between the Smithsonian and Malaysian collections. Kavanagh, K.D., 2001. Fishes from Mountain Streams in the Crocker Range, Northwest Borneo. In “A Scientific Journey Through Borneo: Crocker Range National Park Sabah — Natural Ecosystems and Species Components (Volume 1)”. Ed. Ghazally Ismail and Lamry Ali. Asean Academic Press, London.

An evolutionary oddball. Character traits in a rare fish that broods larvae on the reef. Kavanagh, K.D., 2000. Larval brooding in the marine damselfish Acanthochromis polyacanthus (Pomacentridae) is correlated with highly divergent morphology, ontogeny, and life-history traits. Bulletin of Marine Science 66(2): 321-337.

Descriptive reference for damselfish larvae within an expert guide to identifying field-caught Indo-Pacific larval fishes. Kavanagh, K.D., J.M. Leis, and D.S. Rennis, 2000. Pomacentridae in “The Larvae of Indo-Pacific Coastal Fishes: An Identification Guide to Marine Fish Larvae” Fauna Melanesia Handbooks 2. Edited by J.M. Leis and B.M. Carson-Ewart. 

Improvement of aquaculture technique for raising reef fishes. Southgate, P. and Kavanagh, K.D., 1999. Effects of n-3 fatty-acid composition of enhanced Artemia diet on growth and mortality of Acanthochromis polyacanthus. Aquatic Living Resources 12(1):31-36.

Fascinating parent-juvenile touching behavior in a highly unusual reef fish. Does it help identify kin in a dynamic environment? Kavanagh, K.D., 1998. Notes on the frequency and function of glancing behavior in Acanthochromis polyacanthus (Pomacentridae) juveniles. Copeia 1998(2):493-496.