The Jacobs lab takes a synthetic approach to reconstructing evolutionary history. Studies combine information from the fossil record, or large-scale physical process, with molecular approaches.
Our recent studies of molecular rates assess why molecular and fossil data appear to be in conflict about the timing of the Cambrian radiation. Other studies in the lab use molecular aspects of development to address issues of the origin of skeletons, a critical issue in the Cambrian radiation, and we are recovering and studying the expression of sense-organ development genes in basal animals such as jellyfish and sponges to better understand the evolution of our senses – a critical issue in the evolution of our animal nature.
Other work in the lab examines how global-scale changes in physical process control the evolution of biodiversity. For example, in a recent synthesis we combine molecular phylogenies and fossil data to document that the diverse marine fauna of the California coast is not a product of present conditions, but a relict of a spike in upwelling and productivity that lasted from 12 to 5 million years ago. Other projects in this area involve the evolution of the deep-sea and hot-vent faunas and detailed work on speciation process, and the discovery of cryptic species only resolvable by molecular means, in the estuaries of California and the Gulf of California.