Introducing the OVAL Window and evolving science communication

Welcome to the OVAL Window, a science blog exploring and reporting on research in anatomy, evolution, and genetics. We are anthropologists, evolutionary biologists, and anatomists currently part of or affiliated with the Department of Anthropology at The University of Tennessee. Many of our contributors have associations with the Osteometric Variation Analysis Lab (OVAL) at UT, which is dedicated to understanding the evolution of morphological variation through analysis of the skeleton.

The OVAL Window is a collaboration between faculty and doctoral graduate students, where we discuss our own studies and related research. Our investigations incorporate comparative anatomy, functional anatomy, evolutionary quantitative genetics, and evolutionary modeling to best understand the processes that give rise to variation in skeletal form. Together, we apply these methods to a cross-section of mammals, focusing especially on primates.

This is an exciting time to be sharing news about these avenues of inquiry. Decades of scientific effort have established patterns of morphological variation among species, and have developed myriad hypotheses about the evolutionary processes (such as natural selection and random genetic drift) that shaped that diversity. New quantitative methods, coupled with massive increases in genomic data and developmental biological data, are creating novel avenues for assessing ideas about evolutionary processes. These tools allow us to build on the wealth of data regarding skeletal function and form, in turn shifting the discussion away from evolutionary narratives to documenting the effects of evolutionary forces. For example: How have cranial and postcranial traits diversified in closely-related species in response to directional natural selection and neutral evolutionary forces? How has the form of globally-dispersed species, such as humans, evolved in response to climate and biomechanics?

Many of our posts will focus on these kinds of questions, in addition to occasional special contributions about broader topics related to our fields of inquiry. We hope to introduce you to methods and approaches that you may not have previously encountered, and to think about evolution in new ways. As a science blog, though, we especially hope to spur new questions and foster further study. After all, this is the scientific endeavor at its core—developing new knowledge and understanding, and sparking curiosity.