Please note: The deadline for this position (28 April, 2014) for application has now expired.

Project title:
The evolution and musculoskeletal function of the amphibian pelvic apparatus

Abstract: Some of the most appealing biological studies are those explaining the origins of novel propulsion mechanisms such as tetrapod walking and avian flight. For similar reasons, the evolutionary origin of frogs and amphibians has become a topic of intense focus and debate. Discrepancies among various theories stem from an overwhelming interest in jumping to the neglect of other locomotor abilities (swimming, walking, burrowing, climbing). Yet, we lack conclusive evidence that frogs ‘evolved to jump’. Rather, the earliest frogs were unlikely to be spectacular hoppers. Regardless, morphologists agree that the most significant breakthrough in frog evolution is the ‘caudopelvic apparatus’, which exists in all frogs and only in frogs. Despite detailed comparative morphology studies and some limited exploration of muscle activity patterns, the pelvic apparatus’ function in locomotion is largely a mystery. Moreover, there are three disconnected branches of inquiry focusing on either the upper limb, the lower limb or on intrinsic muscle function. None of these separate components fully explain how frog hind limbs produce tremendous power for locomotion. Given the importance of the pelvic structure, our uncertainty of its integrated function with the limb implies that we do not understand how and why frogs diverged from their tetrapod ancestry. Further, we lack experimental tools to test traits of extinct transitional species, and we cannot explain what musculoskeletal features enabled modern frogs to radiate into 6000+ species across varied habitats and locomotor terrains. Thus, this project aims to tackle both an evolutionary problem and a biomechanical problem: 1) This project addresses how the ‘caudopelvic apparatus’ may have enabled frogs to evolve the ‘specialized’ ability to jump whilst also developing abilities to excel at alternative behaviours. 2) More broadly, this project addresses how complex anatomical structures promote locomotor multi-functionality. This studentship is expected to begin October, 2014.

1. To determine the functional role of intrinsic pelvic muscles constituting the ‘caudopelvic apparatus’ whose mechanical function and relevance to locomotion is currently unclear.
2. To reconstruct the muscular anatomy of pelvic muscles from fossil evidence of early frog species towards a kinematic model of musculoskeletal evolution of the ‘caudopelvic apparatus’.
3. To build a 3D physical or robotic model of the ‘caudopelvic apparatus’ to test predictions of how individual pelvic muscles contribute to diverse locomotor behaviours.

This position is open to students with a background in biological sciences.

If you are interested or have any questions about the position, please email me (

To apply please click this link below:

Dr. Chris Richards
The Royal Veterinary College, London
Comparative Biomedical Sciences
The Royal Veterinary College
Hawkshead Lane
North Mymms
Herts AL9 7TA