Models in palaeontological functional analysis

Philip S.L. Anderson, Jen A. Bright, Pamela G. Gill, Colin Palmer, Emily J. Rayfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Models are a principal tool of modern science. By definition, and in practice, models are not literal representations of reality but provide simplifications or substitutes of the events, scenarios or behaviours that are being studied or predicted. All models make assumptions, and palaeontological models in particular require additional assumptions to study unobservable events in deep time. In the case of functional analysis, the degree of missing data associated with reconstructing musculoskeletal anatomy and neuronal control in extinct organisms has, in the eyes of some scientists, rendered detailed functional analysis of fossils intractable. Such a prognosis may indeed be realized if palaeontologists attempt to recreate elaborate biomechanical models based on missing data and loosely justified assumptions. Yet multiple enabling methodologies and techniques now exist: tools for bracketing boundaries of reality; more rigorous consideration of soft tissues and missing data and methods drawing on physical principles that all organisms must adhere to. As with many aspects of science, the utility of such biomechanical models depends on the questions they seek to address, and the accuracy and validity of the models themselves.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-122
Number of pages4
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 23 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Biomechanics
  • Feeding
  • Function
  • Locomotion
  • Palaeobiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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