SICB Division of Vertebrate Morphology (DVM)

DVM Researchers Database Entry

John Hutchinson

Vertebrate Evolutionary Biomechanics
My team's research program takes a multidisciplinary approach to evolutionary and biomechanical questions about animal locomotor form and function. The major questions I am interested in are (1) how does the size of giant land animals constrain their stance, speed, and gait? and (2) how do musculoskeletal anatomy and mechanics evolve across major transitions, including size increases/decreases? Hence my work takes both ahistorical (how do animals work at any one point in time?) and historical (how does how animals work change over time?) perspectives. To date I have primarily focused on two lineages, the dinosaurs (especially Tyrannosaurus rex, but also its many relatives, including living birds), and the proboscideans (especially extant elephants). I have shown that large dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus were not superb runners and running ability declined with size in dinosaurs. My team has also shown that living elephants can "run" (bounce) in a biomechanical sense despite their massive size.

We are now branching out to look at other groups (e.g., early land animals, rhinoceroses, crocodiles) and underlying principles (e.g. How does the requirement to sit down and stand up constrain animal design, especially at large sizes? How does bone form reflect locomotor function (or not)?), including collaborations with others in our lab and across the world. Important themes to my research include an integration of empirical (e.g. experiments) and theoretical (e.g. simulations) techniques; which provides insights otherwise impossible with either approach in isolation; and cautious sensitivity analyses of unknown parameters in biomechanical models, which I have become a pioneer in emphasizing for studies of extinct organisms. My team is known internationally for our work on both extant and extinct species. Our latest move is into more applied research that relates biomechanics and anatomy to animal pathology and welfare (foot health; broiler chickens), but we maintain very strong roots in basic science.