Combining geometric morphometrics and functional simulation: an emerging toolkit for virtual functional analyses


Paul O’Higgins, Hull York Medical School, University of York, York YO10 5DD, UK. T: + 44 1904 328872; E:


The development of virtual methods for anatomical reconstruction and functional simulation of skeletal structures offers great promise in evolutionary and ontogenetic investigations of form–function relationships. Key developments reviewed here include geometric morphometric methods for the analysis and visualization of variations in form (size and shape), finite element methods for the prediction of mechanical performance of skeletal structures under load and multibody dynamics methods for the simulation and prediction of musculoskeletal function. These techniques are all used in studies of form and function in biology, but only recently have they been combined in novel ways to facilitate biomechanical modelling that takes account of variations in form, can statistically compare performance, and relate performance to form and its covariates. Here we provide several examples that illustrate how these approaches can be combined and we highlight areas that require further investigation and development before we can claim a mature theory and toolkit for a statistical biomechanical framework that unites these methods.