Date of Award

August 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Biological Sciences

Committee Member

Samantha A. Price

Committee Member

Michael Childress

Committee Member

Richard Blob

Committee Member

Lars Schmitz


Fishes include some of the most visually striking vertebrate radiations and have repeatedly evolved bold color patterns, including bars, stripes, and spots. Such strong color patterns are hypothesized to provide multiple functions, including avoiding predation by obscuring recognizable features and communicating with others to secure territories and mates. Despite increasing focus on the functions and proximate drivers of color pattern evolution, the relevance of such pressures across broad taxonomic and time scales remain much less resolved. Using over 5000 species within the largest vertebrate radiation, teleostean fishes, I employ phylogenetic comparative methods to explore the lability and potential coevolutionary relationships between color pattern traits and habitat. Evolutionary models reveal that pattern traits are labile across fishes and transitions most often occur between patternless and non-contrast pattern species. I also find support for the long-held belief that reef fishes are more patterned than their non reef-dwelling marine relatives. Given the marked diversity of body shapes within this group and proposed functional relationships between fish body depth and stripe orientation on the body, I also test for relationships between color pattern types and body shape. I find differences in body shapes between species with singular versus repeating patterns, such as single and multiple stripes, suggesting potential coevolution of color pattern and morphology over macroevolutionary scales. This study is a key step towards uncovering the story behind the persistence of bold color patterns in nature and provides insight into how evolutionary pressures shape color displays across deep time.



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