Professor Receives Grant to Study How Fish Hunt

NSF grant will support research on how fish coordinate different body parts to catch prey

Timothy Higham is an associate professor of biology at UC Riverside.Photo credit: Higham lab, UC Riverside.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — The ability to move and coordinate body parts is fundamental to prey-catching animals, but little is known about how these moving parts come together.

Timothy Higham, an associate professor of biology, has been awarded a $294,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Division of Integrative and Organismal Systems (IOS) to study how fish coordinate different body parts to capture prey in water.

Animals must coordinate the function of multiple body parts to accomplish a task like hunting. For fish, both the locomotor and feedings systems must be coordinated in order to accurately capture prey in the water. How this coordination impacts survival, or how it differs depending on ecological conditions, is unknown. Furthermore, almost nothing is known about the genes that control these behavioral traits in fishes or other non-human animals.

Using the model three-spine stickleback system, Higham will identify specific genes that underlie complex behavioral integration during tasks that are critical for survival. This research, which can translate to any animal system, will expand the boundaries of evolutionary theory and provide a foundation for future studies on complex behaviors.

The study will provide research training and international field experiences to student and postdoctoral investigators, including those from groups that are traditionally underrepresented in the STEM disciplines.

Titled “The genetic architecture of biomechanical integration in fishes,” the award is from the IOS Physiological Mechanisms & Biomechanics program.

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