Modern birds have extremely flexible necks that they use for a variety of behaviors, including feeding and preening. How did this flexible neck evolve? What joint motions are used to achieve complicated neck poses? How does the musculoskeletal system work to stabilize the neck without sacrificing flexibility? We are exploring neck form and function in a broad range of extant and extinct avian and non-avian dinosaurs using a combination of traditional comparative methods and modern 3D techniques. Specifically, we are using X-ray Reconstruction of Moving Morphology (xromm.org) to investigate cervical joint motion (i.e. kinematics) in wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo), and coupling this with EMG and force transducers to simultaneously examine muscle activation patterns and joint stiffness. The data will be used as the framework to model joint motion in select fossil representatives that bridge the dinosaur-bird transition. This research seeks not only to understand the evolution of the avian neck, but also to better understand the principles behind vertebrate joint function.
This research is funded by the National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biology Program: How the avian neck go its twist: a 3-dimensional perspective
Digital x-ray image of a wild turkey neck being moved into various complex poses. Cervical vertebrae are clearly visible beneath the soft tissue.