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Uncovering developmental and functional constraints on the occupation of conodont tooth morphospace (EVOLVING TEETH)
Start date: 01 Jul 2009, End date: 31 Dec 2011 PROJECT  FINISHED 

"The fossil record is predominantly a record of organismal morphology. In the late 20th Century, techniques for mapping the universe of organismal form were developed – the so-called ‘morphospace’ plots – that provided a means of considering qualitatively the heterogeneity of morphospace occupation. The limitation of this approach has been that morphospaces became vehicles for discussion, not analysis. However, technical advances now allow morphospaces to be interrogated through analysis of real and hypothetical 3D representations of organismal morphology. The research element of the project will establish a novel programme investigating the developmental/functional controls on morphospace exploration by exploiting the superb fossil record of conodont teeth, which form the earliest vertebrate skeletons. Project objectives include: 1.Circumscribing a tooth morphospace using morphometric and complexity analyses of 3D tooth models obtained through X-Ray Tomographic Microscopy and confocal laser microscopy 2.Sampling actual and hypothetical tooth forms from the morphospace, and testing their function and mechanical properties through tooth modelling and finite element analysis 3.Validating functional hypotheses using microwear analysis This will uncover the developmental and functional constraints governing morphospace occupation, offering insights into evolutionary process and initiating a long term research programme focussing on the evolution of vertebrate dentitions, which are a model system in developmental and evolutionary biology. The training element of the project will allow the candidate fellow to acquire proficiencies in state-of-the-art tooth modelling approaches to understanding dental functional morphology at the outgoing host. He will transfer these competencies to the EU through reintegration into the return host – a major training centre for palaeobiologists in Europe – which employs complimentary techniques but lacks expertise in tooth modelling."
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