Researcher Spotlight: Studying Multivariate Trait Evolution in Fishes

Kory Evans, PhD
Assistant Professor, Rice University, Department of Biosciences


To highlight various applications of micro-CT technology, Micro Photonics is featuring monthly Q & As with investigators working in both life science and materials science. We continue this series with an interview with Kory Evans, PhD, who uses micro-CT technology in his biosciences research.

Knothead Parrotfish micro-CT scan. Image courtesy of the Evans Lab at Rice University using the SkyScan 1273 micro-CT system. © 2023 Kory Evans. All rights reserved.

I know you study phenotypic diversity in vertebrates, and in particular bony fishes. Can you expand briefly on what you are focused on in your research?

In my research, we are interested in the tempo and mode of skull shape evolution in fishes and are particularly interested in teasing apart the factors that have shaped the evolution of the fish skull over its 500-million-year history (e.g., ecology and development). Our approach uses micro-CT scanning coupled with three-dimensional geometric morphometrics and a robust phylogenetic comparative toolkit to capture and quantify the complexity of the fish skull in three dimensions. So far, my work has taken me to five different countries to collect fishes and gather valuable ecological data that we use in our analyses.

What are you hoping to achieve through your work?

Through my work, I am hoping to uncover the factors that have and continue to contribute to the evolution of complex traits. The findings of my work can be applied broadly across the field of evolutionary biology for a wide array of complex systems.

What has been the most important discovery or unexpected outcome in your research?

The most important discovery of my research program so far has been that flatfishes underwent a rapid diversification in skull shape that spanned only three million years following the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event 66 million years ago. Additionally, we found that this skull shape diversification was highly integrated across the skull involving the coordinated evolution of several bony elements simultaneously.  This finding demonstrated that integration among traits can facilitate rapid morphological evolution under the right circumstances.

What are the possible real world applications of this research?

My work can be applied to further understand the drivers of the evolution of biological and morphological diversity on the planet, and can be applied to predict how species may respond phenotypically to changes in climate, habitat, or other ecological resources in the future.

How are you using micro-CT technology in your research?

Micro-CT scanning is essential for my research program as it allows us to collect high-resolution data on the internal anatomy of specimens without physically damaging them. This allows us to scan rare museum specimens and collect large datasets in short periods of time.

Examples of micro-CT scans from the Evans Lab:

Crevalle Jack micro-CT scan. Image courtesy of the Evans Lab at Rice University using the SkyScan 1273 micro-CT system. © 2023 Kory Evans. All rights reserved.
ongnose butterflyfish micro-CT scan. Image courtesy of the Evans Lab at Rice University using the SkyScan 1273 micro-CT system. © 2023 Kory Evans. All rights reserved.

Selected Publications:

Larouche, O., Gartner, S. M., Westneat, M. W., Evans, K. M. 2022. Mosaic Evolution of the Skull in Labrid Fishes Involves Differences in both Tempo and Mode of Morphological Change. Systematic Biology:

Evans, K. M., Larouche, O. , West, J. L. , Gartner, S. M. , & Westneat, M. W. 2022. Burrowing constrains patterns of skull shape evolution in wrasses. Evolution & Development:

Evans, K.M., Larouche, O., Watson, SJ., Farina, S., Habegger, M., Friedman, M. 2021. Integration Drives Rapid Phenotypic Evolution in Flatfishes (Pleuronectiformes: Carangaria). Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences:

More Information:

To contact Kory Evans, please email:

If you are interested in being featured in a future Researcher Spotlight, please contact We love to hear how our instruments are being used in the field!


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