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Using engineering plus evolutionary analyses to answer natural selection questions
Date:1/23/2014

ion worked on. Some form or function helps an animal to perform better in its environment, but it can be hard to demonstrate exactly what that form or function is. We studied the engineering results using the evolutionary tree, which is a very cool new thing about this work."

She and colleagues built an engineering model of a bat skull that can morph into the shape of any species, and used it to create skulls with all possible combinations of snout length and width. Then they ran engineering analyses on all the models to assess their structural strength and mechanical advantage, a measure of how efficiently and how hard bats can bite.

Analyzing the engineering results over hundreds of evolutionary trees of New World leaf-nosed bats revealed three optimal snout shapes favored by natural selection, they report. One was the long, narrow snout of nectar feeders, the second was the extremely short and wide snout of short-faced bats, and the third optimum included all other species. Overall, selection for mechanical advantage was more important in determining the optima than was selection for structural strength, they add.

"Thanks to this new approach," Dumont says, "we were able to answer our original question about natural selection in the evolution of these bats. It favored the highest mechanical advantage in short-faced bats, which gives them the high bite forces needed to pierce through the hardest figs. Nectar feeders have very low mechanical advantage, which is a trade-off for having long, narrow snouts that fit into the flowers in which they find nectar."


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Contact: Janet Lathrop
jlathrop@admin.umass.edu
413-545-0444
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Source:Eurekalert  

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