A siphonophore tree, parsed from the itis taxonomy. The tree is rendered with the d3 javascript library. Drag nodes to rearrange the tree, mouse over to see their names. For source code and information about the use of d3 to view phylogenies, check out the git repository.


The Dunn Lab investigates how evolution has produced a diversity of life. We primarily focus on form (i.e. morphology), and are interested in learning about the actual history of life on Earth as well as the general properties of evolution that have contributed to these historical patterns. The type of questions the Dunn Lab asks require field (marine), laboratory, and computational work.

The development of phylogenetic tools and the application of these tools to particular groups of organisms are central to this work. Because a diversity of form has been realized through the evolution of developmental mechanisms, we also study development from a descriptive and functional perspective.

We ask comparative questions at multiple phylogenetic scales. At the broadest scale we are investigating the relationships of the major groups of animals to each other.

Much of our work focuses on the Cnidaria, an extremely diverse group that includes corals, jellyfish (medusae), and hydroids. The relatively simple organization of cnidarians combined with their extreme diversity in morphology, development, ecology, and life cycles make them an ideal group to study the evolution of major transitions in these characters (which often exhibit homoplasy and parallelism, providing independent chances to study the same repeated changes).

We are particularly interested in the siphonophores, a unique group of colonial deep-sea superorganisms that include the longest animals in the world. Please visit siphonophores.org to learn more about them. We primarily study the evolution of their colony-level organization and development, but because siphonophores are so poorly known we also work on their systematics (both phylogenetics and alpha taxonomy), descriptive morphology, and natural history.


Interested in joining the Dunn Lab? If so, please contact Casey ().