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Award Winner Q & A - Chris Mull

Q. What award did you receive and when?

The Gruber Award at the 2014 Annual Meeting in Chattanooga

The Henry and Anne Mollet Elasmobranch Research Award, 2013

Q. What degree are you seeking, from what institution, under whose guidance?

I am finishing up my PhD at Simon Fraser University working with Dr. Nick Dulvy and Dr. Kara Yopak

Q. What is the most important (actual or potential) finding of your research?  Give us a little background on the subject.

The most striking findings of my research in chondrichthyan neurobiology have been that the amount of energy a mother invests in a pup has a huge influence on relative brain size, and that brain size affects brain organization - larger brains are composed of regions associated with higher cognitive functions. In other words, mothers that invest more in their offspring give them a ‘head start’. What makes chondrichthyans an ideal group for this study is that they employ every form of reproductive mode described for vertebrates - from egg-laying to placental live-bearing. This reproductive diversity is perhaps one driver behind the diversity of chondrichthyans we see today - in habitats and ecological roles to morphological specializations and life history traits.

Overall my biggest take away has been that there is a huge diversity within chondrichthyans that isn’t fully appreciated. Because most research has focused on a small number of species that have been characterized as ‘apex-predators with slow life histories’, we have undervalued their ecological and evolutionary importance.

Q. How is the award going to help you complete the project?

The Gruber award confirmed that I was able to effectively communicate my research, which is heavy in comparative analyses and neurobiology, to a broader audience. The Henry and Anne Mollet Award was a huge help to my field and laboratory work, which mainly occurs at the University of Western Australia in Perth.

Q. What are your other research goals?

My first research goal is to place the evolutionary neurobiology of chondrichthyans more firmly into the context of all vertebrates. Chondrichthyans are basal jawed vertebrates and represent the first appearance of the vertebrate brain archetype. Despite the importance of this group, chondrichthyans have often been overlooked in research in favor of birds and mammals. Secondly, I am making use of recent advances in comparative analyses and the availability of more data to develop tools for predicting essential information for data deficient species. Nearly half of all chondrichthyan species are listed as ‘data deficient’ by the IUCN Shark Specialist Group, which means there is insufficient data to determine their conservation status. Accurate predictions of this information may be an essential tool for management and conservation of chondrichthyans.

Q. How did you get started in research/shark bio/science?

Studying sharks is the only thing I ever remember wanting to do since I was little. I’ve made all my decisions based on what will allow me to keep doing what I am doing and to learn new skills and techniques along the way.