01 July 2009

Day 3

Before I get to day 3, I just want to add a bit to what Per posted yesterday. On Monday I bounced back and forth between the biomechanics session (which he's already given a great overview of) and the evolution of evolution session. One great talk was by Bill Sellars, who had created a computer model where you could put in skeletons and add tendons and muscles and then use a genetic algorithm to make things walk. He started out with humans, and after a few generations showed us the 'best' model, which really couldn't walk very well--I couldn't help thinking of the old Monty Python skit about the Ministry of Silly Walks! But then he moved on to hadrosaurs, and showed that given their skeletons and morphology, they were probably more likely to be quadrapedal than bipedal, though it might depend on speed.

...Except that at one point, the genetic algorithm found a bipedal gait that was better than normal bipedalism or quadrapedalism: hopping like a kangaroo! As he said, GAs are great for exploring parameter space, and for generating hypotheses we wouldn't have even considered (though he doesn't think that hadrosaurs actually hopped due to strain on the skeleton).

Yesterday's highlight for me was a talk by Steve Cook on conservation physiology as a discipline using his research on the Fraser River sockeye salmon as a case study. He argued that because physiologists can link cause and effect (when water temperatures are warm, parasites grow faster, and those parasites kill the fish), whereas demographers and more 'traditional' conservationists can only get correlations (when water temperatures are warm, fish die). It got me to thinking--is there any way that we, as biomechanicists/people who study animal movement, can inform management decisions? (Actually, I saw a great talk at SICB a few years ago looking at the performance of hatchery-bred fish vs. wild-caught fish which showed that hatchery-bred fish are quite useless when it comes to escaping predators.) Is there anything like that we could do with birds or bats? I don't know how it is in Sweden, but in the US you're much more likely to get funding if you can bend your research conservation-wards.

Yesterday was also the dinner and dance, which was a lot of fun. Today there's very little biomechanics, but lots of physiological energetics...so that's where I'll probably be!

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