Karen is interested in the developmental mechanisms driving morphologic diversification in mammals, and in using non-model mammals as “natural mutants” to investigate questions of import to human health.
Organismal form is the product of a complex suite of interacting developmental processes. Variation in these processes allows mammals to adapt to changing environments, but also generates congenital malformations in humans. Developmental variation therefore presents a unifying concept for evolutionary biology and biomedicine, whose understanding is critical to the success of both fields. My primary research goals are to determine how developmental variation interacts with environmental factors within a species to produce congenital malformations in humans, and among species to generate new evolutionary adaptations in mammals. To pursue these goals, I characterize developmental variation across biological scales, and interpret how this variation drives evolution and malformations in form. I incorporate data from fields from paleontology to mathematics to genomics to developmental biology. I also study multiple model and non-model mammals (e.g., mouse, bat, cat, deer, horse, pig, opossum). I use this approach to investigate three major topics: mammalian limb evolution and development, major evolutionary transformations during mammalian evolution, and mammalian sensory system evolution.