rita mehta

Rita Mehta - Assistant Professor

B.A., UC Berkeley
Ph.D., University of Tennessee
AAUW Fellow, UC Davis

Mehta Lab Website

Vertebrate Functional Morphology and Physiological Ecology

I am broadly interested in the evolution of morphological and behavioral diversity in ectothermic vertebrates. Understanding the functional morphology and physiology underlying the feeding behavior of apex predators is central to my research program. To accomplish this, I study the organism in its entirety, both in the lab and field, using tools from biomechanics, evolutionary morphology, physiology, and behavioral ecology. Within this larger theme, my projects fall into one of the following four categories:

  • documenting the evolution of morphological and behavioral innovations related to feeding,
  • understanding the basal metabolic rates and digestion physiology of elongate predators,
  • determining how the correlation of traits can constrain functional diversity in the vertebrate skull, and
  • documenting motor pattern evolution underlying variation in feeding performance.
Center for Ocean Health
100 Shaffer Road
University of California
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Phone: 831.459.1490
Fax: 831.459.3383

Selected Publications

Mehta, R.S., A.B. Ward, M.E. Alfaro, P.C. Wainwright. 2010. Body Elongation in Eels. Integrative and Comparative Biology. In press.

Ward, A.B., and R.S. Mehta. 2010. Axial Elongation in Fishes: Using Morphological Approaches to Elucidate Developmental Mechanisms in Studying Body Shape. Integrative and Comparative Biology. In press.

Tran, H., R.S. Mehta and P.C. Wainwright. 2010.The effects of ram speed on juvenile tarpon feeding kinematics. Zoology. 113: 75-84.

Mehta, R.S. 2009. Ecomorphology of the moray bite: Relationship between dietary extremes and morphological diversity. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 82: 90-103.

Mehta, R.S. 2009. Experience shapes the development of behavioral repertoires of hatchling snakes. Journal of Ethology 27: 143-151.

Mehta, R.S. and P.C. Wainwright. 2008. Functional innovation in the pharyngeal jaw apparatus of moray eels. Journal of Morphology 269: 604-619.

Mehta, R.S. and G.M. Burghardt. 2008. Contextual flexibility: Reassessing the effects of prey size and status on prey restraint behavior of macrostomate snakes. Ethology 114: 133-145.

Mehta, R.S. and P.C. Wainwright. 2007b. Raptorial jaws help moray eels swallow large prey. Nature 449: 79-82.

Mehta, R.S. and P.C. Wainwright. 2007a. Biting releases constraints on moray eel feeding kinematics. The Journal of Experimental Biology 210: 495-504.

Mehta, R.S. 2006. Meal size effects on antipredator behavior of hatchling trinket snakes, Elaphe helena. Ethology 112: 649-656.