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The evolution of locomotion in birds

Faculty of Health and Life Science

Dr KT Bates , , , Friday, January 15, 2021 Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Numerous theories have been proposed as selective pressures behind the evolution of locomotion in birds. However, to-date none have provided clear mechanistic links between the changes in gross anatomy and overall body shape described by fossils and the biomechanics underpinning this major ecological shift. Here we propose a new hypothesis: that changes in body shape and limb posture were initially driven by selection for enhanced jumping and walking performance on compliant substrates (i.e. branches) prior to the evolutionary radiation of flying taxa. To test this hypothesis the student will collect experimental data on birds jumping and walking on hard substrates and branches of varying compliance in both laboratory and zoo settings. Anatomical data from the same birds will be combined with this experimental biomechanical data to build and validate computer models of birds jumping and walking. Having validated this modelling workflow, the student will simulate jumping and walking of a series of bird-line theropod dinosaurs to examine the impact of gross anatomical changes seen in bird-line fossils to quantify effects on biomechanical performance on walking and jumping on hard vs. compliant substrates. The ideal student would have a keen interest or background in zoology/palaeontology and skills in quantitative, mechanical and/or 3D digital techniques, but training will be provided in all techniques to be used. The supervisory team includes experts in vertebrate anatomy, biomechanics, imaging and computer simulation. The student will be based primarily with Dr Bates in the Evolutionary Morphology & Biomechanics Group at Liverpool (


Notes and how to apply are available here:

Funding Notes

NERC ACCE DTP in Ecology and Evolution, programme starts October 2021.

UKRI provide the following funding for 3.5 years:
• Stipend (2020/21 UKRI rate £15,285)
• Tuition Fees at UK fee rate (2020/21 rate £4,407)
• Research support and training grant (RTSG)

Note - UKRI funding only covers UK fees (£4,407 at 2020/2021 rate). A limited number of international fee bursaries will be awarded on a competitive basis. However, if selected International and EU fee rate candidates may need to cover the remaining amount of tuition fees by securing additional funding. International fees for 2020/21 entry were £23,650 per annum.

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