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From Biologische Anatomie To Ecomorphology

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image of Netherlands Journal of Zoology
For more content, see Archives Néerlandaises de Zoologie (Vol 1-17) and Animal Biology (Vol 53 and onwards).

Morphologists have been slow in realizing that the basic principles of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection meant that understanding the evolution of anatomical features must to be based on an analysis of how these structures interact with demands of the external environment on the organisms. An early, although largely forgotten, beginning can be found in Hans Böker's two volume work "Vergleichendc Biologische Anatomic der Wirbeltiere". The real start of ecomorphology came only after the modern synthesis of evolutionary theory (1937-48) and the foundations of an experimental functional morphology in the 1950's. However, vertebrate ecomorphology had its origins in the 1960's within ecology, with little to no input from morphology. Ecology, ethology and descriptive plus functional morphology formed the major foundations for the new ecomorphology which has as its chief goals: (a) assessment of the adaptiveness of morphological features, and their comparison within taxa and communities; (b) explanation of the evolutionary history of features and groups of organisms; (c) understanding the composition of evolutionary communities and the diversity within taxonomic groups; and lastly (d) contribution to evolutionary theory associated with adaptation, macroevolution, and evolution of ecological systems. Ecomorphology is not synonymous with evolutionary morphology, but is a subdiscipline of the latter field. Proper ecomorphological study requires both laboratory and field work as it depends on thorough descriptive and functional morphology and a full understanding of the ecology of the organisms. These studies are best done as teamwork involving morphologists, ethologists and ecologists with extensive feed-back between the two groups during the course of any ecomorphological study.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biological Sciences, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027, U.S.A.


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