The impact of captivity and mating on the functional morphology of the carnivoran baculum

Theme: Evolution & Adaptation

Primary Supervisor:

Philip Cox

Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL

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Secondary Supervisor:

Ryan Felice

Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL

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Project Description:

Life in captivity is known to have significant effects on the morphology of animals. In particular, changes to cranial morphology are well documented, and are generally considered to result from a diet that requires less mechanical effort to process, compared to the diet of wild counterparts. Additionally, impacts on the morphology of the limb bones and even internal organs are known. This project will investigate the impact of captive life on a part of the skeleton as yet unstudied in this context: the baculum, or penis bone. Making use of a unique and extensive sample of bacula from wild and farmed mink and foxes, this project will employ statistical shape analysis (geometric morphometrics) to explore the degree to which life in captivity and mating status (i.e. whether the individual has mated or not) has consequences for the morphology of the baculum, and whether this varies between species. Building on the results of the morphometric analysis, the project will then use virtual biomechanical simulation (finite element analysis) to uncover the functional consequences of changes to baculum morphology.

Policy Impact of Research:

This project will provide understanding of how captivity and life history can impact the morphology of species, which is vital for improving the welfare of domestic, zoo and farm animals.

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