When it comes to my scientific interests, I’m fascinated by the shape of organic things and what they can tell about the animals they’re found on and in. Once, the work I've done over the last ten years might have been called anatomy but as I’m also interested in the behaviour of animals and how this influences their anatomy (and vice versa) I suppose I am a functional morphologist. Preferably, I’m a zoologist. Here are some of the areas I've been interested in over the last few years:
Mammalian Biodiversity I have worked with colleagues based at the Zoological Society of London in order to better understand the diversity and evolutionary history of the (venomous) Solenodon species in Hispaniola (which led to the description of Solenodon paradoxus haitiensis), as well as with colleagues at the University of Cambridge to better understand the evolutionary relatedness and deep history of small mammals including the wonderful African tenrecs and golden moles.
Bronner GN, Mynhardt S, Bennett NC, Cohen L, Crumpton N, Hofreiter M, Arnold P, Asher RJ. (2023) Phylogenetic History of Golden Moles and Tenrecs (Mammalia, Afrotheria). Zoological Journal of the Linnaean Society (doi.org/10.1093/zoolinnean/zlad121)
Vertebrate biomechanics Along with colleagues at the Universities of Hull and Aberdeen I helped build on previous research by colleagues such as Marc Jones to generate highly detailed, computer simulations of the mammalian and squamate (mostly lizard) skull. This BBSRC project used the classical tools of comparative anatomy - i.e. scalpels, cameras, and scales - as well as cutting-edge computer technology largely borrowed from engineers (such as finite element analyses, contrast-enhanced scanning, and multibody dynamic analyses) to work out how the tissues of the head in squamates and mammals have evolved to resist similar strains whilst looking physically extremely different.
Convergent evolution, fossoriality and ears Living under the ground is an interesting evolutionary niche for mammals. Many of the animals that have evolved into the 'fossorial' realm have similar, sleek bodies, extremely strong forelimbs, and a reduced reliance on sight. But this convergence is countered by some unique adaptations, like 'true' moles that have developed unique tactile adaptations to help them feel their way around which aren't found in other subterranean fuzz-balls. And what about their sense of balance? Is that less, or more important in a dark tunnel? By studying the inner ear with new imaging techniques I have investigated this in order to tease apart the similarity or dissimilarity of these sensory systems of animals that look and behave alike, but are very distantly related. Collaborators: Rob Asher, Rick Thompson, Lionel Hautier
Comparative neuroanatomy As a bi-product of my work on squamates and previous work on the endocasts of mammalian brains, I am finding myself very interested in the comparative neurology of the reptilian brain. This is a new, exciting avenue of interest for me and I will be updating on this as time goes on. Collaborators: Julien Benoit
Mammalian dietary preferences Teeth and jaws are amazing structures in their ability to record the dietary preferences of animals that are no longer living on Earth. I have previously been involved in research into mesozoic mammals, and I am keen to expand this into more recently extinct taxa.