Biology Professor Receives Grant to Study Fishes with Air-Breathing Organs

Biology Professor Receives Grant to Study Fishes with Air-Breathing Organs

Matthew Kolmann, Assistant Professor of Biology

April 29, 2024

Matthew Kolmann, Assistant Professor of Biology, has been awarded a National Science Foundation research grant of $484,232 to study air breathing in small tropical fishes known as Labyrinth, known colloquially as gouramies. Labyrinth fishes, like most other fishes, breathe with their gills, but they also possess a supplemental breathing structure, the labyrinth, for which they are named. The project is entitled, "Phenotypic and Lineage Diversification after Key Innovations: Multiple Evolutionary Pathways to Air-Breathing in Labyrinth Fishes and Their Allies."

Professor Kolmann explained, “Our lab is interested in why some groups of animals are more diverse than others. Our proposal explores the role of special traits, called key innovations, and how these traits have catalyzed diversification in fishes. Why fishes? Because fishes are the most diverse vertebrates (animals with backbones) on Earth, numbering over 36,000 species (6x the number of mammals). We're investigating groups of fishes with air-breathing organs, which are functionally similar to lungs, and whether these organs can be considered key innovations. That is, whether air-breathing has played a critical role in the diversification of air-breathing fishes like bettas and snakeheads—propelling these species to invade habitats globally tens of millions of years ago alongside more recent invasions during our lifetimes.”

Professor Kolmann just completed his second year as an Assistant Professor at UofL and recently returned from a ten-day biodiversity expedition to the eastern savannah wetlands of Guyana led by a PhD candidate in his lab, Devya Hemraj Naraine, who is a graduate of the University of Guyana.