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Phenotypic Evolution - PHENEVOL

Phenotypic Evolution - PHENEVOL

We aim at describing patterns, unveiling functions, and inferring processes related to the evolution of phenotypic diversity in various animal groups. For this purpose, we combine field data, laboratory experiments, and records obtained from museum collections and available online, and we use quantitative analytical approaches to test hypotheses about the mechanisms involved in shaping phenotypic patterns at the individual, population, species, and ecosystem levels. To fulfill this objective, we apply multidisciplinary approaches, combining different types of biological data using a variety of analytical tools, including e.g. linear and geometric morphometrics, motion analysis, biomechanical modelling, spatial analysis tools, and phylogenetic comparative methods.

Through these methodologies, we dissect phenotypic evolution through a series of complementary research venues:

DESCRIBING MORPHOLOGICAL VARIATION: We focus on several types of morphological traits, including linear biometric body measurements with a potential functional significance; meristic and categorical traits with an evolutionary meaning and possible value for systematics; and organismal shape as quantified using geometric morphometrics. We address questions related to how morphology varies in geographic space, and across ecological and evolutionary time, including e.g. ontogeny, sexual dimorphism, geographic and environmental gradients, and the evolutionary history of species groups. We mostly use reptiles and amphibians as model organisms, but also focus on other organisms such as arachnids. Through collaborations with other colleagues we are also involved in studies focusing on birds, fresh-water snails and primates.

FROM FORM TO FUNCTION: To decipher how morphological variation translates into variation in fitness, providing the raw material for evolution through the action of selection, we use biomechanics and functional morphology to link morphological traits to whole-organism performance and behaviour. Through laboratory experiments we quantify functional traits (e.g. locomotion, bite force, stinging performance, grasping and clinging capacity) and we then use multivariate statistical approaches to test hypotheses about how they are determined by morphological variation at the individual, population, and species levels. This adds to our comprehension of the evolutionary potential of morphological variation.

PROCESSES OF PHENOTYPIC EVOLUTION: To obtain a direct understanding of the mechanisms that drive phenotypic evolution, we test hypotheses about how phenotypic traits vary as a function of environmental and historical factors. Depending on the specific question at hand, we combine an ecomorphological or spatial statistics framework to analyse how structural and climatic variation influence morphological and functional traits (e.g. effects of environmental incubation temperature on sex and performance). To evaluate the influence of evolutionary history on the phenotype, we combine these analyses to data on population genetics and phylogenetics, and use a comparative framework, to investigate the tempo and mode of evolution at the intraspecific or macroevolutionary scales.

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