On the inference of function from structure using biomechanical modelling and simulation of extinct organisms
John R. Hutchinson*
Structure and Motion Laboratory, Department of Veterinary Basic Sciences, The Royal Veterinary College, Hawkshead Lane, Hatfield AL9 7TA, UK
Biomechanical modelling and simulation techniques offer some hope for unravelling the complex inter-relationships of structure and function perhaps even for extinct organisms, but have their limitations owing to this complexity and the many unknown parameters for fossil taxa. Validation and sensitivity analysis are two indispensable approaches for quantifying the accuracy and reliability of such models or simulations. But there are other subtleties in biomechanical modelling that include investigator judgements about the level of simplicity versus complexity in model design or how uncertainty and subjectivity are dealt with. Furthermore, investigator attitudes toward models encompass a broad spectrum between extreme credulity and nihilism, influencing how modelling is conducted and perceived. Fundamentally, more data and more testing of methodology are required for the field to mature and build confidence in its inferences.
musculoskeletal system, dinosaur, computer modelling, simulation, palaeontology, biomechanics
One contribution of 12 to a Special Feature on ‘Models in palaeontology’.
Received April 11, 2011.
Accepted May 19, 2011.
This journal is © 2011 The Royal Society