Ecophysiology Ecomorphology and the Ecomorphological Paradigm

The term ecophysiology, as interpreted broadly, also includes two related fields: functional morphology (or ecomorphology) and biomechanics. Studies in the field of functional morphology typically pertain to an animal's ability to move about in its environment (locomotion), to acquire energy (feeding), and to transmit its genes to the next generation (courtship and reproduction). Consequently, this field is particularly concerned with quantifying 'performance' variables. Performance variables aim to quantify an animal's ability to survive and succeed in its habitat, such as maximum speed of locomotion, metabolic cost of transport, feeding rate, and maximum bite force. Biomechanics, in contrast, considers how the physical properties of the tissues that comprise an organism affect its ability to survive and succeed in its environment. This field includes studies that assess the strength and elasticity of animal and plant tissues (bone, tendon, cuticle, stems) to determine if environmental or behavioral stressors may contribute to failure of the organism to survive in its habitat, and modeling studies that atomize the organism into simple systems and consider the energy used and work being performed by that particular system.

A cornerstone of these and other related fields is the 'ecomorphological paradigm', which states that structural or physical or even physiological differences among organisms are often reflections of differences in their ecology. For example, piscivorous fishes might have long, sharp teeth for capturing prey, while planktivorous fishes may have lost teeth altogether and use modified gill arches to filter prey out of the water column. Therefore, diet can be predicted to some degree by tooth and gill morphology, and vice versa.

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