Grasping onto evolution: testing hypotheses on adaptive evolution of animal prehensile systems

Project focus

Locomotory adaptations characterize structural variation in vertebrates. A highly specialized locomotory tool is that used for tail grasping. Despite being specialized, such systems evolved independently across lineages, including invertebrates. Patterns of convergences have been linked to grasping performance, however, causal relations between structural and functional variation in vertebral grasping systems remain largely unknown. Still, characterising this relationship not only allows to better understand to what degree these systems reflect adaptive evolution, but also opens up the potential for developing biomimetic grasping tools. With this project, we will test hypotheses on how convergent and clade-specific traits of prehensile systems influence grasping performance. 
FWO project scheme 'Evolution prehensile tail in vertebrates'We will gather 3D musculoskeletal data of various types of grasping systems (in brittlestars, syngnathid fishes, chameleons and New World monkeys), and characterize their kinematic and mechanic performance. To test hypotheses on trait-specific performances, we will combine virtual modelling of functional performance at the level of flexibility and strength of these systems with physical modelling using 3D printed phenotypes. As a final goal, we will use these physical models to explore their biomimetic potentials, as they meet particular requirements for application in industry and biomedicine. This interdisciplinary approach is being tackled by a team of biologists and engineers.


evolution, prehensile, chamaeleons, grasping, seahorses, brittlestars, adaptive evolution, morphology, multibody dynamics analysis, computer simulations
Researchers: Allison Luger, Dominique Adriaens (PI), Anthony Herrel (Paris Museum), Michael Porter (Clemson University, USA), Vincent Vermeylen