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About Philip J. Motta

My research interests are in functional and ecological morphology, and behavior of fishes, particularly as it pertains to feeding. My graduate students work on ecomorphological, anatomical, functional morphological, biomechanical, or behavioral projects involving feeding in bony fishes, sharks, and rays. Most of my past research has been on tropical reef fishes and sharks. Some of this research has focused on the interaction between functional morphology, behavior and ecology. In addition, past and present research has investigated the anatomy and mechanics of feeding, feeding behavior, and the evolution of feeding mechanisms in fishes.
The goal of my current research is an understanding of the comparative functional morphology of the feeding mechanisms in elasmobranchs (sharks, skates and rays), the relationship of functional morphology to their feeding behavior, and the evolution of feeding mechanisms in sharks and rays. Sharks and rays present a unique opportunity to investigate the function and evolution of feeding systems in fishes and aquatic vertebrates. Sharks share a common ancestor with early bony fishes. From the early piscine feeding mechanism the amphibians and later amniote vertebrates evolved and modified their feeding mechanisms. The unquestionable evolutionary success of the elasmobranchs is in part due to a diversity of feeding mechanisms within this group of vertebrates, a group which dates back over 400 million years.
Compared to the many morphological, physiological and behavioral studies of feeding in bony fishes, however, relatively little is known about the function and evolution of feeding mechanisms in elasmobranchs. Together with my graduate students, I utilize a variety of techniques to understand feeding mechanisms in sharks and rays. These techniques include: anatomical dissection, CT scanning, mechanical modeling, electromyography, high speed digital video photography of captive animals, pressure and bite force measurement, underwater video photography, and evolutionary analyses to unravel historical changes.


Present Professor of Integrative Biology, University of South Florida

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Contact Information

Office: SCA 304
Phone: 813-974-2878


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