Vertebrate Functional Morphology and Physiology


Functional morphology is the study of the design of tissues and organ systems, the principles of physics affecting animals, and the mechanisms of the body. Physiology is the study of how living organisms adjust to their environments and regulate critical functions at the tissue, system, cellular and molecular levels. Together the two related fields include a broad range of topics such as feeding mechanics, digestion, locomotion, muscle contraction, circulatory design, oxygen exchange and other topics focused on animal function.

Keywords: morphology; physiology; function; biomechanics; feeding; locomotion

Figure 1.

Mechanical design in vertebrates, illustrated by the streamlined body and propeller‐like tail of the tuna and the long, narrow wings of the albatross – two designs for rapid, efficient locomotion.

Figure 2.

Large canine teeth in the lower jaw are shared by the sabre‐toothed characin (left: scale, 1 cm) and the hippopotamus (right: scale, 10 cm). The teeth and jaws function in very different ways: the fish uses fast jaw motions to impale evasive prey whereas the hippopotamus forcefully digs for vegetation with its powerful jaws and heavy teeth.

Figure 3.

The structure of muscle (left) at levels ranging from gross morphology, muscle fibres, fibrils, and the actin and myosin molecules that slide along one another to produce contraction. Muscle contraction produces the physiological plots (right) of shortening distance, force production, and work that a muscle can perform.


Further Reading

Alexander RMcN (1983) Animal Mechanics, 2nd edn. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific.

Hildebrand M (1995) Analysis of Vertebrate Structure, 4th edn. New York: Wiley.

Schmidt‐Nielsen K (1990) Animal Physiology: Adaptation and Environment, 4th edn. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Vogel S (1988) Life's Devices: The Physical World of Animals and Plants. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Wainwright SA, Biggs WD, Currey JD and Gosline JD (1976) Mechanical Design in Organisms. New York: Wiley.

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Westneat, Mark W(Apr 2001) Vertebrate Functional Morphology and Physiology. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0001815]