Toward integration of geometric morphometrics and computational biomechanics: new methods for 3D virtual reconstruction and quantitative analysis of Finite Element Models

W C H Parr, S Wroe, U Chamoli, H S Richards, M R McCurry, P D Clausen, C McHenry
Journal of Theoretical Biology 2012 May 21, 301: 1-14
The ability to warp three-dimensional (3D) meshes from known biological morphology to fit other known, predicted or hypothetical morphologies has a range of potential applications in functional morphology and biomechanics. One of the most challenging of these applications is Finite Element Analysis (FEA), a potentially powerful non-destructive tool in the prediction of mechanical behaviour. Geometric morphometrics is another typically computer-based approach commonly applied in morphological studies that allows for shape differences between specimens to be quantified and analysed. There has been some integration of these two fields in recent years. Although a number of shape warping approaches have been developed previously, none are easily accessible. Here we present an easily accessed method for warping meshes based on freely available software and test the effectiveness of the approach in FEA using the varanoid lizard mandible as a model. We further present new statistical approaches, strain frequency plots and landmark point strains, to analyse FEA results quantitatively and further integrate FEA with geometric morphometrics. Using strain frequency plots, strain field, bending displacements and landmark point strain data we demonstrate that the mechanical behaviour of warped specimens reproduces that of targets without significant error. The influence of including internal cavity morphology in FEA models was also examined and shown to increase bending displacements and strain magnitudes in FE models. The warping approaches presented here will be useful in a range of applications including the generation and analysis of virtual reconstructions, generic models that approximate species means, hypothetical morphologies and evolutionary intermediaries.

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