The morphological and functional impacts of natural selection and domestication

Theme: Evolution & Adaptation

Primary Supervisor:

Philip Cox

Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL

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Secondary Supervisor:

Anjali Goswami

Life Sciences Department, NHM

Anjali Goswami's Profile Picture

Additional Supervisor(s):
Jesse Hennekam (University of Maastricht)

Project Description:

Evolution via natural selection has produced an astounding diversity of morphologies. Within groups of closely-related species, morphology can often be predicted from size. Such strong size-shape (allometric) relationships are driven by the need to maintain functional performance. However, processes such as island dwarfism and selective breeding can disrupt allometric relationships, leading to novel morphologies not predicted by size, with potentially impaired performance. This project will investigate the effects of such processes on morpho-functional diversity in the Caprini, an ungulate tribe comprising sheep, goats and their wild relatives. Statistical shape analysis (geometric morphometrics) will be used to determine the relationship between size, morphology and ecology (diet and locomotion) across a wide sample of extant and extinct caprin genera. The project will then assess the degree to which the identified allometric relationships have been disrupted by life in an island environment and/or domestication. This will be quantified by applying geometric morphometric techniques developed by the supervisors to the extinct Balearic dwarf goat Myotragus, and a sample of domestic, feral and wild sheep. Lastly, the functional impact of the morphological variation will be explored using virtual biomechanical simulation (finite element analysis).

Policy Impact of Research:

Given the global importance of domestic sheep as livestock, this project will provide vital understanding of how humans have impacted the natural world, and how they may continue to do so in the future.


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