Project proposal details

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Project title
Capturing and modeling the diversity of cervid antlers: ontogeny and phylogeny of the unique mammal novelty
Contact name
Arkhat Abzhanov
Project based at
Natural History Museum
Project description
Antlers, so proudly displayed by members of the deer family, are an example of a rare evolutionary novelty. Antlers only evolved once and are unique to cervids (deer, elk, moose, etc). Generally only males have antlers as they function primarily as objects of sexual attraction and as weapons in fights between males. The two antlers (on the left and right sides) of individual deer are symmetrical to each other and each grows from an attachment point on the skull. Antlers are shed every year and re-grow rapidly by tip-growth via endochondral ossification. Although the antlers are regrown each year, their size varies with the age of the animal in many species, increasing annually over several years before reaching maximum size. The mature antlers once the skin (velvet) is lost are made of pure dead bone The complexity (branching pattern) of antlers increases as the animal grows and the eventual design displays individual, species-specific and clade-specific variation.. The morphology of the antlers is of immense interest to evolutionary and developmental biologists as variation in antler shapes during development and between species may reflect their complex evolutionary history. However, the unusual tree-like three-dimensional shape of antlers is a big challenge to understand as they are hard to study using conventional landmark-based morphometric approaches. This project will employ 3-D scanning of cervid antlers from the NHM collections including both phylogenetically and ontogenetically relevant specimens. Our collaboration with a team of applied mathematicians developing new advanced methods of mesh-based morphometric analyses will help to capture and examine 3-D diversity of cervid antlers.
Additional requirements
This project will require 3-D scanning at the NHM imaging facility and further geometric morphometrics analyses and mathematical modelling in collaboration with a team of applied mathematicians at Harvard University.
Date uploaded

Project proposal limitations

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Project length limitations
3.5 months, 5 months
Available date limitations
Winter (January), Spring (April-May)
Suitable for
Taxonomy and Biodiversity [NHM MSc]