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PhD position, Functional morphology and biomechanics - 2019BAPFWETEF329Posted by: University of Antwerp
Posted date: 2019-Nov-21
The Faculty of Science is seeking to fill a full-time (100%) vacancy in the Department of Biology for a doctoral student in the area of functional morphology and biomechanics
PhD grant Experimental and modelling approaches to study the three-dimensional dynamics of the beak of songbirds
At the laboratory for Functional Morphology we investigate how organisms function and evolve. Examples of functions under study include: locomotion, feeding, fighting, communication, and thermoregulation. Many of our projects take a mechanistic approach: we try to understand how organismal systems work, i.e. precisely how body parts (primarily of the movement and feeding apparatus) and processes interact to allow the individual animal to move, eat, fight, communicate etcetera.
This PhD project is part of an emerging project on the mechanics of the beak in songbirds. Beak function is known to play a central part in some of the best known examples of evolution by natural selection in vertebrates: songbirds including the group of Darwin’s finches. Their biological machinery allows these birds to move their beak during feeding and singing, and use it to crack hard seeds, but strong trade-offs appear to exist between the different functions of the beak. However, since we don’t know what causes these trade-offs, the biomechanical basis of the link between cranial anatomy and fitness remains unknown, and hence our view on songbird evolution is incomplete. Additionally, how these birds precisely manage to quickly reposition, crack and swallow seeds using fast 3D movements of the upper and lower beak, also remains to be discovered.
The aims of this PhD is (1) to optimise and integrate experimental and modelling approaches to assess the dynamics of the cranial musculoskeletal system underlying the 3D movement of the beak of small birds, and (2) use these methods to improve our understanding on the mechanical functional of the cranial system of songbirds during feeding. Experimental approaches will include kinematic analyses using multi-view, synchronised high-speed videography and stereoscopic X-ray videography, and in vitro quantification of contractile properties of cranial muscles and tendons. Modelling approaches include the application and validation of mathematical models of muscle contraction, and numerical simulations of the moving head skeleton.
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