Research at the lab comes mainly in two flavours: one with a more biomechanical, and one with a more ecological taste. Functional morphology and ecological morphology can be considered as consecutive steps in the same integrated evolutionary research program. Through the specificity of these steps, however, both approaches appear to differ considerably.
- Ecological morphology puts the focus primarily on the link between animal performance and ecology. Although 'form'-variation is considered, there is no explicit emphasis on its mechanistic link with performance. Morphometrics, performance measurements, eco- and ethological observations, field work, etc., form part of the proper ecological morphological analysis. Add quantitative genetics and fitness measurements to this and the entire evolutionary research program is realised. Comparison of large numbers of specimens and/or species is intrinsic to this kind of analysis and conclusions mostly build upon inductive reasoning and (statistical) modelling.
- Functional morphology focuses on the link between animal form and performance. Gaining insight in the precise way in which biological machinery performs under relevant conditions is of primary importance. Detailed morphological and morphometric study, movement analysis, dynamographics, electromyographic recordings, registration of physiological processes (like measuring respiration rates…), performance measurements, etc, all belong to the functional morphological repertoire. Of course, functional morphology does not reject comparison, but the intensity of the in-depth analysis and intricacy of many of the techniques often hinder a broad comparative experimental set-up. Consequently, many studies focus on very specific 'how, what and why' questions. New hypotheses on adaptation and evolution are formulated afterwards, by expanding the results of the functional morphological analysis (deductive reasoning). This is often done through mathematical modelling. (See also the introduction of Topics in Functional and Ecological Vertebrate Morphology (pdf - 116 KB)