Darcy Ross

The diversity of animal form is vast and breathtaking. How are these myriad forms constructed through development, and how do those forms change over evolutionary time? A thousand questions more specific (and yet, still too broad) underlie this general interest and motivate my work. A large part of body plan diversity is shaped by the redeployment of a conserved set of developmental patterning genes - I'm fascinated by how this might determine which forms we don't see (four-eyed vertebrates, five-armed mammals, unicorns). Does our developmental/genetic architecture make some evolutionary paths easier than others? How does plasticity (phenotypic, developmental) impact the expressed form and the evolution of such forms?

Methodologically, I take an evo-devo approach to understanding body plan evolution, but paleontology is vital as a record for what actually occurred in the evolution of a lineage, and at what rate and with what intermediate steps. I use diverse methods to analyze form in meaningful and ideally quantitative ways (micro-CT scanning, SEM, various laser microscopy), and I use next-generation sequencing to build vital tools for emerging model systems.

I currently study the evolution and development of gastropod shells, which have an excellent fossil record, diverse shapes, and relatively simple morphological parameters. Gastropods have an interesting mixture of diversity, conservation, and convergence in their body plan. Emerging model systems like Crepidula fornicata and Ilyanassa obsoleta bring molecular tools and genetic data to the equation, allowing me to (1) assay the genetic/developmental underpinnings of disparate morphologies, andfurther to (2) test how altering patterning mechanisms generates different types of shells. Gastropod shells are a great system for studying why some areas of morphospace are explored often, rarely, or not at all. This line of inquiry will yield implications for evolutionary trends due to the shell's importance to gastropod ecology and survival.

Publications

Ross, D, Marcot, JD, Betteridge, KJ, Nascone-Yoder, N, Bailey, CS, & Sears, KE (2013). Constraints on mammalian forelimb development: Insights from developmental disparity. Evolution, 67(12), 3645-3652.

Presentations

Ross, D, Marcot, JD, Betteridge, KJ, Nascone-Yoder, N, Bailey, CS, & Sears, KE. Constraints on mammalian forelimb development: Insights from developmental disparity. Poster at Evolution Conference (2013)

Ross, D. Of funnels and pharyngula — Patterns of morphological disparity across mammalian forelimb development. Oral Presentation. Integrative Biology Distinction Symposium (2012)

Ross, D & Marcot, J. Rates and patterns of North American camelid limb evolution in the context of Cenozoic environmental change. Oral Presentation. Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (2011)

Sears, K, Huebler, M, Ross, D, Beck, A. Evolution of the "other" part of the limb: Fossil and developmental perspectives on mammalian shoulder girdle evolution. Oral Presentation. Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (2011)

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