Monkey See, Monkey Do? Deciphering the Structure-Function Relationship in the Fossil Record

An organism’s survival is contingent on the way it moves and interacts with the environment. We can get at the relationship between a living organism’s morphology and the way it moves through direct observation and experimentation. This relationship, however, is more clandestine in fossil organisms. In our last blog post, Ben touched on the use of comparative anatomy to infer the structure-function relationship in the fossil record. In this post, I briefly explore this topic from a historical perspective and discuss its potential for evolutionary analysis. 

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Dynamic Duos: Why Examining More Bones is (Mechanically) Better Than One

A common question raised in research by morphologists and functional anatomists is, “How do we better understand the movement of this creature?” From the work of earliest naturalists, descriptions of the shape and size of bones were key aspects to this research endeavor. Further, because of the fragmentary nature of the fossils of many ancient organisms, scientists learned to draw conclusions from isolated or a few skeletal elements. Perhaps because of decades of using this approach, we have grown accustomed to examining certain single bones over others, even when we have completely intact skeletons to consider. Yet, examining one element may be ignoring subtle but important contributions that better explain variation in the morphology of multiple bones.

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Shhh, We Can’t Talk About That: Is Mental Health an Academic Taboo?

There aren’t very many taboo subjects when you’re a scientist. As an anthropologist, at some point I’m likely to have a very serious discussion about body decomposition, lemur poop, primate sperm competition--you name it. As researchers, we’re able to set aside some of our social or personal discomfort in the name of asking relevant scientific questions, and that’s as it should be. Otherwise, we end up ignoring potentially rich bodies of evidence. But there’s at least one topic that we still have some trouble addressing with frankness: our own mental health.

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What’s in a Measurement? The Inside (and Outside) Story

In our last two posts, Kristen and Sam discussed established ways to model the effects of evolutionary forces on skeletal traits. As they both mentioned, we often ask ourselves about whether what we are measuring best represents the traits we’re interested in modeling. At first glance, this may seem to be an esoteric issue, but as I’ll argue here, we should be cautious about measurement choice when we are trying to understand evolutionary change.

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