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Darwin stands tall at the Structure & Motion Laboratory

A celebration of Darwin Day—12 February 2012
Charles Darwin’s 203rd birthday

Evolution, the massive body of facts, methods, ideas and theory for which Charles Darwin built the foundation, is important to scientists in diverse biological fields, including the study of animal motion, behaviour and biomechanics that dominates the research activity of the Structure and Motion Group at the RVC. No other scientific concept unifies the disparate ideas of our research, the diversity of species we study, and the questions that urge us forward, under one comprehensive umbrella of historical explanation like evolution does. Nor is any other such concept more awe-inspiring and beautiful - as Darwin so eloquently wrote at the end of the Origin of Species: “There is grandeur in this view of life.” Thus, along with Isaac Newton and many other giants, we owe much to Darwin.

This year, Professor John Hutchinson and scientific illustrator/PhD student Julia Molnar gathered our lab to celebrate that intellectual debt. We were inspired by the high-resolution image of an amiable old Darwin standing at attention that was provided by Colin Purrington (website) and illustrator Carl Buell (website). So we arranged to have Mr. Darwin visit our lab in cardboard cutout form to illustrate how his (and his scientific descendants') ideas permeate our science. We hope you find the resulting images to be a suitable homage and perhaps amusement, as well as an evocative depiction of the integration of disciplines that is what our research group stands for. Darwin still stands tall, as does evolutionary biology, and so is welcomed in many perhaps unexpected places.

Darwin coffee time
Meet-and-greet with Darwin in our meeting room.

Darwin and The Hutch
Professor John Hutchinson snags a rare book-signing opportunity.

Julia and Chucky D
Julia Molnar regales Darwin with her research on the early tetrapod Pederpes.

Darwin voltage
Checking Darwin’s voltage in our electronics lab with Steve Amos. Yep, he still packs a charge!

Darwin and turkeys
Darwin meets our gang of wild turkeys.

Darwin gait analysis   Darwin and Tatjana
Darwin carrying out an inspection of our gait laboratory space—and roped into participation as a motion capture subject by Dr. Tatjana Hubel!

Darwin treadmill
Darwin in full motion on our treadmill.

Darwin VO2max   Darwin and rhino bones
(left) Oxygen/CO2 analysis of Darwin by technician Rebecca Fisher and (right) Darwin peers at our skeletal collection.

Darwin whiteboard
Darwin lends a hand at the whiteboard with chicken biomechanics researchers Drs. Heather Paxton and Jeffery Rankin.

King and Darwin 1

King, Di, Darwin
Dr. Andrew King explains how many of the problems of altruistic/group behaviour that plagued Darwin are now being solved—for example, by his studies of fish boldness with PhD student Diamanto Mamuneas.

Darwin doggie 4   Darwin doggie 3Darwin doggie 2   Darwin doggie 1
PhD student Alison Wills (top left), Dr. Julia Myatt (top right), and Dr. Penny Hudson (bottom left) introduce Darwin to canine wunderhund of locomotion (and beloved pet), Zak.

Horsing around with DarwinDarwin and Zoe
Darwin meets Beauty the pony and our fabulous team of horse locomotion PhD student researchers:
(Top, left to right) Anna Liedtke, Zoe Self, Sandra Starke and Emil Olsen.

Darwin lab opening
Darwin was very much present (in spirit, at least) at the grand opening of our new laboratory in 2009! (note giant of biomechanics, Prof R McNeill Alexander among others in attendance)

Darwin-related Research

A sampling of recent research papers we’ve published that intersect with Darwin’s ideas - explore our Research Projects and People pages for much, much more!

Locomotor evolution


Comparative anatomy and locomotor adaptations

  • P. E. Hudson, S. A. Corr, R. C. Payne-Davis, S. N. Clancy, E. Lane, A. M. Wilson (2011)  Functional anatomy of the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) hindlimb. Journal of anatomy (Early online edition).
  • Paxton, H., Anthony, N.B., Corr, S.A. and Hutchinson, J.R. 2010. The effects of selective breeding on the architectural properties of the pelvic limb in broiler chickens: a comparative study across modern and ancestral populations. Journal of Anatomy 217:153-166. [pdf]
  • WILLIAMS, S. B., USHERWOOD, J. R., JESPERS, K., CHANNON, A. J. & WILSON, A. M. (2009) Exploring the mechanical basis for acceleration: pelvic limb locomotor function during accelerations in racing greyhounds (Canis familiaris). J Exp Biol 212, 550-565. PubMed ID 19181903
  • PFAU, T, SPENCE, A, STARKE, S, FERRARI, M, WILSON, A. (2009), Modern riding style improves horse racing times. Science. 17, 325, 289. PubMed ID 19608909

Adaptations of neural control for stability

  • BLUM, Y.N., BIRN-JEFFERY, A. DALEY, M.A. and SEYFARTH, A. (2011). Does A Crouched Leg Posture Enhance Running Stability and Robustness? Journal of Theoretical Biology. 281, 97-106
  • DALEY, M. A. & USHERWOOD, J. R. (2010) Two explanations for the compliant running paradox: reduced work of bouncing viscera and increased stability in uneven terrain. Biol Lett. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2010.0175.

Sexual selection

  • USHERWOOD, J. R. (2008) Collared doves Streptopelia decaocto display with high, near-maximal muscle powers, but at low energetic cost. J. Avian Biol. 39, 19-23.
  • King, A. J., Isaac, N. J. B. & Cowlishaw, G. (2009) Ecological, social, and reproductive factors shape producer-scrounger dynamics in baboons. Behavioral Ecology 20: 1039-1049.

Group behaviour

  • USHERWOOD, J.R., STAVROU, M., LOWE, J.C., ROSKILLY, K. AND WILSON, A.M. (2011). Flying in a flock comes at a cost in pigeons. Nature 474, 494-497. doi:10.1038/nature10164.
  • King, A. J., Cheng, L., Starke, S. D., Myatt, J. P. (2012) Is the true “wisdom of the crowd” to copy successful individuals? Biology Letters Online early.

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