Clemson University

Caught between a fossil and a hard place: Integrating experimental and computational biomechanical analyses to explore functional evolution across clades and through time

Dr. Phil Anderson
Duke University
Sep. 20. 2013
1:00 pm
101 Kindard


Multi-part biomechanical systems, such as the suction feeding system of fishes or the strike appendage of mantis shrimp, have the potential to both promote and constrain morphological evolution. As a macroevolutionary biologist and paleontologist, I am interested in how the mechanics of these functional systems can influence biological diversity across clades and through time.  Unfortunately, working with fossil organisms means we lack a great deal of functionally relevant information such as soft tissues, behavior, and neurological data, and must rely on morphological data alone. However, the relationship between morphology and biological function is not straightforward, especially when dealing with biomechanical
systems with more than one degree of freedom. In order to fully understand the mechanical consequences of morphology, we need to investigate the interaction between biological processes and the laws of physics and mechanics.

My research focuses on combining experimental and computational biomechanical methods in order to
explore the interactions between biology and physics and understand the evolutionary processes driving the development of these biomechanical systems. I use a combination of experimental testing, computational analyses (FEA, linkage mechanics) and large-scale comparative methods on various taxonomic groups including both vertebrates (fish and early tetrapods) and invertebrates (mantis shrimp). I use these methods to address questions relating to the functional evolution of mechanical systems such as:

1) How do teeth cut? Using a combination of experimental analysis and theoretical modeling, I explore the effects of tooth shape on cutting efficiency of different materials.

2) When did early tetrapods first adapt to feeding on land? I use functional morphology and biomechanical data to explore the evolution of terrestrial feeding evolution in early tetrapods.

3) What trade-offs exist in power amplified biomechanical systems? I use a combination of biomechanical and phylogenetic comparative methods to explore the evolution and potential trade-offs Seof the mantis shrimp raptorial appendage.

This seminar is hosted by the Dr. Blob lab. 

As usual, all seminars in our series are free and open to any interested public.  Please visit our seminar calendar for more information and other events.

Friday, September 20, 2013 at 1:00pm to 2:30pm

Kindard, 101

Event Type

Lectures / Seminars / Speakers, Seminars


Biological Sciences, College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences

Target Audience

General Public, Students, Faculty, Staff




Contact Name:

Charlie Wei

Contact Phone:


Contact Email:


Recent Activity