A Course in Morphometrics for Biologists


Morphometrics, the topic of this book, brings together the best modern methods for quantifying the patterns of variation of organismal form that we biologists are most interested in talking about. Sometimes the organisms under study are humans, in which case we usually refer to our work as an aspect of human biology or medicine. Or the research question may be classified under a rubric like zoology, botany, paleontology, or ecology. The objects of study, when they are not actually human subjects, might be living (in which case they may be domesticated, or farmed, or else studied in the wild), but sometimes they are dead or even extinct. They might be observed only once each, or over a short window of time corresponding to some physiological cycle, or perhaps over a substantial fraction of the life cycle or even all of it. Some investigators who make use of our morphometric tools are concerned with the evolutionary, developmental, genetic, or environmental processes that account for those patterns, while others pursue the consequences of those patterns for the biological functions they help govern (physiological energetics, locomotion, predation, reproduction, health), the time course of the organism’s life, or the consequences for the ecological system(s) in which the organism can be found. Now a mature scientific interdiscipline, morphometrics combines knowledge bases and expert analytic strategies from geometry, statistics, and classical functional anatomy with the customary investigative styles and question constructions of zoology, paleobiology, medicine, and bioengineering in order to acquire and synthesize the information about organismal form that answers existing questions like those, or to pose new ones. The underlying intellectual themes on which we draw for the tools and examples this book introduces hence range quite broadly. They are not the property of any single discipline, let alone the discoveries of any single