Modularity describes the degree of independence between organismal traits, whereas integration describes the strength of covariation. Our research investigates the strength of these properties in a variety of systems, including the skull, mandible, limbs and vertebrae, using geometric morphometrics, CT scanning and laser surface scanning. We then use comparative methods to study how these features have changed through time and influenced macroevolutionary trends.
A key component of our research is the development and application of phylogenetic comparative methods- a key component of understanding evolutionary morphology in a historical context. Our work in this area has included developing a new method for evaluating the strength of phenotypic covariance using phylogenies, as well as a project using simulated phylogenies and phenotypes to understand how trait covariance shapes evolvability and evolutionary rates.
In order to fully understand the underlying mechanisms that drive the evolution of morphological variation and modularity, it is important to investigate the genetic and developmental processes that govern morphogenesis. We am using evo-devo techniques to study how vertebral fusion is regulated in the chick embryo and how avian vertebral features such as the synsacrum and pygostyle evolved.