SICB Division of Phylogenetics and Comparative Biology (DPCB)

DPCB Researchers Database Entry

Erin Simons

Evolution of the avian locomotor apparatus
My research is focused on developing a better understanding of the structure-function relationship in bone and how this relates to different flight modes in extant birds. Bones exhibit amazing adaptability, especially during growth, and respond to external loads by modifying their shape. In modern organisms, however, much of the main structure of the skeleton has developed before significant external loads from locomotion are applied to it, suggesting that at least some aspects of skeletal form result from Darwinian adaptation by natural selection. The skeleton, therefore, provides a unique opportunity to investigate the interaction between functional and Darwinian adaptation.

I study wing skeletal morphology in extant birds at several different anatomical levels and investigate how this relates to function, or flight behavior. My research includes: (1) investigating the shape of the whole wing bones and how these vary with flight mode, (2) examining the cross-sectional geometry of wing bones to investigate the relationship between change in shape and the evolution of flight, and (3) assessing aspects of the microstructure of avian wing bones and how it relates to inferred biomechanical loading of the wing. The development of this dataset on Recent birds will not only enhance our understanding of the evolution of skeletal morphology as it relates to avian flight, but will also provide a robust comparative framework for constraining inferences related to flight characteristics of extinct birds.