Romain David is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Human Evolution. Having trained as a vertebrate paleontologist, he turned to studying the functional morphology of the semicircular canal system with the aim to infer its properties in fossil specimens. The semicircular canal system senses rotations of the head, neural information which is an essential part of coordinating head and body movements. Assessing functional adaptations of the canal system in extinct species can provide insight into their particular type of locomotion.
For his doctoral thesis (October 2011), he studied the semicircular canal system of archosaurs. He proposed a new methodological framework to analyse the functional properties in extant and extinct tetrapod. This framework allowed him to study sensitivities and coding patterns of the semicircular canal system of 39 archosaurs. From this, he demonstrated that various systems detect some rotations more precisely than others, and that distinct patterns of detection can be correlated with locomotor repertoires. Importantly, he demonstrated that agile taxa like flying birds show optimisations toward decreased sensitivity of their semicircular canal systems, contrary to what was commonly thought.
His goal is now to document the functional morphology of the semicircular canal system in extant and extinct primate species. His methodology will be applied in particular to the semicircular canals of fossil hominins in order to assess the origin and nature of bipedal locomotion, independent from any evidence provided by the postcranial skeleton
Department of Human Evolution
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6
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