The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Geometric morphometrics as a tool in evolutionary biomechanics


Department of Anthropology, University at Albany

Thursday Morning, 301D Add to calendar

Geometric morphometrics (GMM) is the leading approach to quantitatively describing variation in shape and form in biological structures. GMM can be used in functional morphology insofar as shape and form influence function. However, if the key mechanical parameter of a given anatomical system can be measured simply, then a GMM analysis will not add to a functional interpretation. Rather, GMM will enhance the testing of functional hypotheses when applied to complex anatomical systems that defy simple mechanical explanations. In this regard, GMM is an excellent complement to finite element analysis (FEA), an engineering method used to examine how objects of complex geometry and material properties respond to complex loads: GMM provides information about variation but does not provide mechanical information, whereas FEA provides mechanical information but is not well designed to assess variation. Yet, both methods rely on similar inputs (3D coordinate data).

GMM and FEA can be integrated in several ways: GMM can be used to 1) identify a few individuals near the mean or extremes of variation, such that when they are modeled in FEA, they will provide an assessment of the mechanical consequences of intrataxon variation; 2) virtually reconstruct damaged or distorted fossil individuals that will be analyzed mechanically using FEA; 3) warp a given FEA model into alternative shapes/forms, allowing a virtual mechanical experiment; and 4) describe the differences in shapes produced in a given finite element model when subjected to different loads or boundary conditions.

This project was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation Physical Anthropology HOMINID program (NSF BCS 0725126).

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