Research Unit

Evolutionary Morphology of Vertebrates

01 January 2002 → Ongoing
Other information
Research disciplines
  • Natural sciences
    • Animal developmental and reproductive biology
    • Animal morphology, anatomy and physiology
    • Vertebrate biology
    • Biology of adaptation
    • Phylogeny and comparative analysis
  • Medical and health sciences
    • Biomechanics not elsewhere classified
  • Engineering and technology
    • System and whole body biomechanics
    • Tissue and organ biomechanics
"Many of the fascinating examples resulting from millions of years ofevolution are known from the vertebrate lineage of chordate animals.Because of the vast range of body plan diversifications that havearisen, knowing vertebrate evolutionary morphology is crucial forexploring the structural basis reflecting processes of adaptive (butalso neutral) evolution. As such, especially functional systems thatform the core of the survival of vertebrate organisms can be expected tobest reflect the processes ofvariation, natural selection andadaptation.Two systems that have been subjected to intense selective pressures, butstill show a tremendous variation and specialization towards anincreased performance, are the feeding and the locomotory systems. Theresearch within the group focuses on several aspects underlying themorphological evolution of these two systems in several representativelineages of vertebrates. Particularly animal groups with extremespecializations and/or performance are the focus, as they provide goodcase-studies of adaptive evolution. Some examples that form the subjectof past and ongoing research are suckermouth catfishes, blood-suckingcatfishes, seahorses, chameleons, mole rats, etc.The main research focus is adaptive morphological evolution for improvedperformance in a specific function, as well as phenotypic responses tochanging performance regimes due to varying selective pressures. Severaldisciplines are required to provide relevant information on the bigpicture behind structural diversity and evolutionary patterns underlyingit. So, in short, in order to get a holistic idea about themorphological evolution of vertebrates, disciplines and methodologiesthat are applied include: dissections, clearing-and-staining,histological sectioning and graphical 3D-reconstructions, geometricmorphometrics, taxonomy, phylogeny (morphological and molecular),biomechanics and performance testing.The expertise on studying vertebrate phenotypes is also used for moreapplied research topics, such as larval fish quality assessment inaquaculture and phenotyping of cranio-facial deformations in modelorganisms."