adaptive or functional morphology autecology n.
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Adaptive or Functional morphology - Autecology. What is the origin of our morphologies or how do structures work.

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adaptive or functional morphology autecology

Adaptive or Functional morphology - Autecology

What is the origin of our morphologies or how do structures work

(Palaeo)Autecology: study of the life modes of organisms and the relationship between individuals and the environments. It focusses on the growth and shapes of organisms ad on the correspondence of morphology to both life strategy and habitats.
  • To define the function of a particular anatomical form
  • To describe how organimsms reached their present forms.

(1) God’s luck: Divine designer

(2) B. G. Cuvier: the founder of

comparative anatomy

(law of correlation parts)

(3) C. Darwin
  • Adaptation: accordance

between an organism and the environment or it is the fitness of an organism to its environment

influential factors
Influential factors
  • Our morphology (adaptation to environmental needs) is interrelation of the following factors :

1) the genome; 2) the development of body plan (isometric growth vs. allometric growth)

growth strategy the development of body plan
Growth strategy: the development of body plan
  • Marginal accretion: adding on discrete growth layers to their skeletons as they get larger; leaves "growth lines"
serial addition
Serial addition
  • in colonial organisms: the parts replicated are comparable to entire other organisms
  • each growth stage or instaris entirely new hard part material; allows for radical transformation between growth stages

(extreme in advanced

insects); leaves

discrete size classes

representing age


continous modification
Continous modification
  • Bone tissue remodelled throughout ontogeny.
influential factors1
Influential factors

3) the function of the organism; 4) the organism’s behaviour

investigative methods
Investigative methods
  • Structure can be compared directly with modern, working counterparts (homologues, analogues).
  • Paradigm approach: one function can be tested against the efficiency of a mathematical or physical model for the working structure
Application of various experimental techniques where physical models are subjected to simulated encironments.

1. Experimental palaeoautecology

2. Computer simulation


Each structure has to be describe.

Described structures are compered one to another and to the environment.

  • Function and morfology for each structure has to be define.
  • Connection between structural performance and fitness to morphology.
analogues and homologues
Analogues and homologues
  • The morphology ad function of a modern structure is compared with an assumed counterpart in an extinct or fossils organism.
  • Homologous structures, like wings of birds or lungs of the vertebrates, have evolved once.
  • Analogous structures: evolved at different times from different structures (wings in birds, in insects…
analogues and homologues1
Analogues and homologues
  • Could exist does exist?
  • Certain morpholohy repeats over Life evolution: Some adaptations are mechanically advantageous and easy to produce developmentally
  • Different lineages of organisms can independently develop some of the same features, even though ancestors were quite different (e.g., streamlining in sharks, tunas, ichthyosaurs & dolphins; cactus-like form in separate lineages of plant; etc.).
how this method works in the field
How this method works in the field?
  • We have to define the adaptation or the structure we pick up for study, then make a list with all organisms that show this adaptation or have this structure – Theoretical and traditional morphology
  • Try to go far in the past to see who was the first organism that showed this adaptation or had this structure - phylogenetic lineages in order to see wh this adaptation/structure arose
Ancestor and descendants form a lineage (historical line). If the same basic adaptations are selected for and elaborated over time, this is called a trend. (e.g., longer and longer legs for fast running; longer and longer necks for browsing in trees, etc.)
If a new adaptation (or loss of competitor group) occurs, many different variations from a common ancestral population might survive (new or unoccupied "niches" in environment). Over a geologically short period time, a common ancestor can radiate into many different descendant lineages
paradigm approach
Paradigm approach
  • The aim to bring scientific methodology to functional studies
  • First we have to postulate one or more bilogical functions for a particular structure
  • Secondly for each function an ideal model or paradigm has to be designed
case study gastropods
Case study: gastropods
  • We study the following prameters: shell’s shapes, aperture’s shape; apex, number of whorl, ornamentation…
  • Ratio between measurable parameters define the shape of shells.

Height > Width

Width> Height

aperture shapes
Aperture shapes




  • α<300α=150-1800α= 60-900
number of whorls
Number of whorls

n < 4 n = 6 – 10 n > 10

ornamentation on the last whorl
Ornamentation on the last whorl

Smooth surface

Growth line Costa


case study gastropods1
Case study: gastropods
  • We study, also: axis of coiling; expansion rate (W), Distance from the generating curve (D), Translation rate (T)


mathematical model
Mathematical model
  • The variation in the form of planispirally coiled cephalopods summarized by varying expansion rate (W) and distance of aperture from axi (D)


paradigma s bad characteristics
Paradigma ‘s bad characteristics
  • Structural constrains: usually special puropese for each structure! Not necessary
  • Evolutionary heritage: an organism can build a new anatomical feature only out of the raw materials that were furnished by its ancestor.
  • Organisms of the same species may look substantially different depending on their environment, e.g. Scleractinian corals in different energy regimes.
  • How well an organism is fitted to its environment?
  • Size as an adaptation
What do you think: are large organisms better adatped than small ones?
  • Giants are particularities of the certain groups of organisms. Is it simply chance, or are there biomechanical reasons?
Why do some groups never produce giants?

Does evolution always go from small to large? Cope’s law

How long does it take for large size to evolve?

What is better: to be giant or to be dwarf?

Mechanical postulates are adopted for analysis of organisms.
  • Investigations are directed towards:
  • Toughness of the matter and architectural pattern
  • Energy and power: Prey and mandible
  • Motion: swimming, flying, propulsion
why so few giants
Why so few giants?
  • Arthopods would suffer the cost of moulting dozen of times
  • Filter-feeding habitis of brachiopods, most molluscs, bryozoans, graptolites, some echinoderms because exposed cilia cannot sustain a large organism.
  • Mechanical constrains in shells: weight of shell and the amount of calcium carbonate to be extracted from the sea-water tend to prevent huge size.
time necessary for development of giants evolution of large size
Time necessary for development of giants – Evolution of large size

Triassic (Norian) – Prosauropodi (Plateosurus), 5m = body length

Liassic – Melanosaurus

12 m = length,

weight = 10 t

time necessary for development of giants
Time necessary for development of giants
  • Bathonian – Kimeridge – the largest dinosaurs up to 30 m in length, weight = 80 t
advantage and disadvantage of large size
Advantage and disadvantage of large size
  • Improved ability to capture a prey or escape from predators
  • Greater reproductivity success
  • Increased intelligence
  • Better stamina
  • Expanded size range of possible food items
  • Decreased annual mortality
  • Extended individual longevity
  • Increased heat retention per unit volume
advantage and disadvantage of large size1
Advantage and disadvantage of large size
  • Greater proneness to extinction
  • expression of specialization: need for large amounts of food and, need for particular environmental conditions
  • small population sizes i.e. small gene pools)
  • Changes in the developmental rates of an organism
  • Result: set of growth strategies that produce significant morphological changes between parent and daughter populations.
  • change in which the adult of a derived organism resembles a juvenile of the ancestor.

A juvenile of a derived organism resembles an adult of the ancestor. Ancestor


sexual dimorphism
Sexual Dimorphism
  • Male and female organisms of the same species differ a lot.
how do we distinguish dimorphismsin fossils
How do we distinguish dimorphismsin fossils?
  • Analogy with living relatives
  • Ratios of presumed females to males (differentiation in size, shapes...)
  • Taphonomic variability: post mortem distortion