The fossil record provides a unique opportunity to study changes in ecological diversity over time. However, understanding palaeoecological structure is complicated by evolutionary convergence, which can cause morphologically distinct organisms to fill the same ecological niche. Integration of palaeobiomechanical methodology is necessary to understand changes in ecological structure at a functional level through Earth history. The goal of this project is to examine questions of palaeoecology in jawed vertebrates as it relates to functional convergence through a multidisciplinary and novel analysis of the form and function of fossil teeth. A series of biomechanical analyses (including FEA, tooth modeling and physical testing methods developed by the incoming researcher) will explore the relationship between complex tooth morphology and functional abilities. The results from the biomechanical analyses will be used to construct a comprehensive functional tooth morphospace, which will allow us to address questions of functional tooth diversity over time, and the larger relationship between morphological and ecological diversity in the fossil record. This study will offer insights into palaecological patterns, the evolution and subsequent diversification of early tooth structures, and the relationship between overall morphology and emergent functional ability. The incoming researcher has developed novel, experimental biomechanical methods, which will be integrated with the state-of-the-art computer modeling and engineering methods already in place at the University of Bristol to create a multidisciplinary approach to palaeobiomechanics not used before. The project will comprise an international collaboration between labs in Europe, the USA and Australia, with the potential to create longstanding partnerships for the exchange of students and ideas, making the university of Bristol a world-wide hub for experimental and theoretical tooth mechanics.
Fields of science
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