Primate evolutionary morphology Assessing ecomorphological questions in extant and extinct anthropoids

Image credit: Thomas A. Püschel


Understanding the evolution and ecology of animals and advancing predictions regarding particular behaviours in extant and extinct taxa involves an appreciation of the exact relationship between form and function, which has always been difficult to ascertain. This is in part because there is no univocal relationship between the form and function of a biological structure. Given the inherent difficulty of this topic, to elucidate the association between form and function in an ecological and evolutionary context it is necessary to coherently apply and combine a diversity of methods. This talk will focus on some possible approaches to tackle the relationship between form and function, providing different examples of how to combine geometric morphometrics and finite element analysis in evolutionary contexts using primate skeletal elements as biological case studies. As a result of the broadly varying demands and constraints of the diverse ecological niches where primates live, their behaviours are congruently complex, plastic and diverse, which means that the relationship between a particular morphology and certain behaviour might not be that straightforward. Therefore, it is particularly relevant to understand how primate form reflects adaptation to specific environmental contexts, and how these particular morphologies evolved since they represent a particularly challenging and interesting case study. In addition, analysing the correlation between form and an ecological function is not only relevant to understanding the morphological diversity observed in extant species, but also because it allows us to infer past behaviours in palaeobiological contexts.

Jan 26, 2021 12:00 AM — Jan 25, 2021 12:00 AM
Oxford, Oxfordshire,
Thomas A. Püschel
Thomas A. Püschel
Postdoctoral researcher

I am an evolutionary anthropologist and vertebrate palaeobiologist mainly focused on human, primate and mammalian evolution. My main interest is to study organismal evolution by reconstructing and comparing the palaeobiology of fossils to their living ecological relatives. In order to do this, I apply a combination of phylogenetics, 3D morphometrics, virtual biomechanical techniques, computational simulations, statistical modelling, phylogenetic comparative methods, and fieldwork. I am part of the Venditti group, University of Reading, within the framework of the Leverhulme project ‘The evolutionary and biogeographical routes to hominin diversity’. I am also a research affiliate at the Institute of Human Sciences, University of Oxford, where I work together with the Paleo-Primate Project Gorongosa, Mozambique.