Postdoc Phil Anderson and Prof. Patek published a new paper appearing in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. This paper probes the interface between physics and evolution by examining the mechanics and evolutionary history of the mantis shrimp's four-bar linkage system.
Mechanical sensitivity reveals evolutionary dynamics of mechanical systems
A classic question in evolutionary biology is how form-function relationships promote or limit diversification. Mechanical metrics, such as kinematic transmission (KT) in linkage systems, are useful tools for examining the evolution of form and function in a comparative context. The convergence of disparate systems on equivalent metric values (mechanical equivalence) has been highlighted as a source of potential morphological diversity under the assumption that morphology can evolve with minimal impact on function. However, this assumption does not account for mechanical sensitivity - the sensitivity of the metric to morphological changes in individual components of a structure. We examined the diversification of a 4-bar linkage system in mantis shrimp (Stomatopoda) and found evidence for both mechanical equivalence and differential mechanical sensitivity. KT exhibited variable correlations with individual linkage components, highlighting the components that influence KT evolution and the components that are free to evolve independently from KT and thereby contribute to the observed pattern of mechanical equivalence. Determining the mechanical sensitivity in a system leads to a deeper understanding of both functional convergence and morphological diversification. This study illustrates the importance of multi-level analyses in delineating the factors that limit and promote diversification in form-function systems.