In my research program I synthesize biomechanical, paleontological and evolutionary methods to answer broad, macroevolutionary questions regarding biodiversity and morphological evolution. The form-function relationship is central to understanding the diversity of life on Earth. How an animal’s phenotype (structure, morphology, physiology) interacts with its environment is a key component of evolutionary theory and is vital to understanding both microevolutionary concepts, such as adaptation, and macroevolutionary concepts, such as cladogenesis and biodiversity. I use biomechanical techniques, grounded in engineering principles, to assess the specific mechanical consequences of morphology both within and between taxa. This allows the form-function relationship to be quantified in a mechanistic way, both in living and fossil taxa. Paleontological data is essential to fully address macroevolutionary questions, as the vast majority of biodiversity that has existed on earth is extinct. By including fossil data in comparative and biomechanical analyses, I get a more complete picture of the evolutionary history of the form function relationship. Recent advances in phylogenetic comparative methods allow for evolutionary patterns and processes to be tested in a statistical manner. By utilizing both biomechanical and paleontological data in conjunction with these evolutionary methods, I can address how the laws of physics and mechanics influence evolutionary processes both across clades and through time.
My research program synthesizes these techniques into a single framework involving multiple components:
1) understanding the mechanical consequences of form,
2) measuring mechanical variation through time and across phylogeny,
3) examining how the laws of physics and mechanics influence evolutionary processes.