Function and Structure
I am an integrative and evolutionary biologist, and my research focuses on the quantitative and functional anatomy and evolution of the mammalian craniodental system. One of the oldest endeavors in the study of gross anatomy is the exploration of the link between musculoskeletal structure and function. For centuries, scientists and artists alike have been digging into anatomical systems to draw connections between animal forms and the functional adaptations that allow some species to out-compete and out-survive others. Scientists’ and physicians’ understanding of current structure-function relationships can be improved by incorporating the long-term, evolutionary histories of anatomical systems. Research in my laboratory is focused on the macroevolutionary-scale patterns of structure-function relationships in mammals and other vertebrate groups. My model system of choice is the skull of carnivoramorphan mammals (dogs, cats, bears, hyenas and their living and extinct relatives). Despite the suggestion of a meat-eating lifestyle implied by the name of this mammal group, living carnivoramorphan species include not only specialists of vertebrate soft tissues, but others that are adapted to feed on insects, plants, fruits--or even bones. Projects in my lab include analysis of important variables such as diet, evolutionary relationships and non-masticatory functional constraints and their interplay on the structure and function of the skull as a feeding tool. I use methodologies such as landmark-based shape analysis (geometric morphometrics), model-based assessments of feeding performance (finite element analysis) as well as experiment-based model validation approaches and field-based and collection-based research on extinct mammal groups. I also use theoretical modeling approaches based on computed tomography (CT) to test functional optimality in skull structures of carnivoramorphans and primates (including humans). My goal is to develop a prototyping approach to better understand structure-function patterns of musculoskeletal systems. This will lead, eventually, to novel biomedical devices such as body implants and replacement body parts (e.g., artificial limbs) that benefit from a design approach informed by evolution. My lab is currently at full capacity for 2019-2020. Students interested in either the PhD or Master's programs are encouraged to check back in early 2020 for potential openings.