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Santa Cruz, CA

Vikram Baliga, PhD Candidate at UC Santa Cruz, member of the Mehta Lab. Areas of study: ecology, ontogeny, morphometrics, and comparative methods.


Summer Research Update

Vikram Baliga

Through my SCWIBLES Fellowship, I've been partnered with Sarah Baumgart, an anatomy & physiology teacher at Watsonville High School. Sarah has been kind enough to assist me with various aspects of my dissertation research this summer.

My first goal in working with Sarah was to introduce her to the vast diversity of coral reef fishes, placing an emphasis on the family Labridae. Through my visits to various natural history museums, I've built a sizable collection of labrid fishes. For each labrid species, I have started collecting an ontogenetic size series of at least 15 specimens so that I can examine trends in the scaling of morphological traits over ontogeny. I'm particularly interested in testing the hypothesis that labrid species that undergo dramatic shifts in feeding ecology over ontogeny also undergo shifts in morphological characters related to feeding in a more drastic manner than species that don't show dietary shifts.

Sarah Baumgart is always enthralled by the peculiar morphology of Gomphosus varius, the bird wrasse.
Sarah is quite the natural! I have led her through the basics of how to take morphological measurements of each specimen’s overall body shape and size, as well as the basics of skinning fishes to prepare them for the clearing & double-staining process. Our sessions have been highly productive, and I am continually impressed with the thoroughness and care that Sarah exhibits. I owe her a lot of credit in helping me describe the overall body shape characteristics of a variety of labrid fishes this summer.

In the near future, I will enlist Sarah's help in capturing high-speed video of cleaning behavior in labrid fishes (particularly in Labroides dimidiatus). This will not be a simple task, as cleaners are often quite difficult to keep alive in an aquarium setting. Furthermore, since I aim to build kinematic profiles of cleaning behavior, I'll need to devise a clever way to ensure I capture the cleaners in a lateral view. I'm very excited to begin this project, which will ultimately constitute its own chapter in my dissertation.