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Ecology, evolution, paleontology, and biomimetics of marine invertebrates

My research focuses on recent and fossil marine invertebrates with a particular focus on echinoids and spirulid cephalopods. A major part of my research interest is on the integration of marine invertebrates in their environment which includes their evolution through geological times. Evolutionary adaptation are typically optimized for a specific environment. A holistic understanding of working principles of these evolutionary optimized biological structures using cutting-edge engineering techniques not only lead to a detailed understanding of the organism and its biological heritage, but can also be use for the development of innovative high-performance engineering structures and novel designs.

Marine invertebrates are highly adapted to a specific environment. These adaptations are often the result of biotic interactions between organism or specific abiotic needs. In modern ecosystems, these interactions can be analyzed in real-time and on a high temporal resolution. Major changes in morphology and behavior, however, can occur on a larger time-scale. The fossil record is a magnificent window to the past, allowing us to go back into ancient times and tracking changes in autecology, synecology, and morphological adaptations.

Echinoids are important for the function and diversity of marine benthic communities in which they act as environmental engineers and represent a major food-source for various organisms. Even after death, the echinoid test is used by many invertebrates as housing or provide a secondary hard substrate for sessile organisms. To better understand their function and integration into the ecosystem, it is vitally important to understand morphological responses to their environment, identifying predatory networks, and describing taphonomic pathways.

Spirulid cephalopods are squid-like animals that predominantly inhabit the deep-sea. This taxon is of specific morphological interest as it represents the only known extant cephalopod possessing an coiled shell. This unique feature rises questions on their structure and function. In addition to the morphological, mechanica, and ecological implications, denuded shells possess an important value as mobilie floating substrates for sessile organisms.

Biomimetics and related research such as biomimicry, technical biology, and bioinspiration focuses on evolutionary optimized biological structures and processes for the development and improvment of innovative technologies and design. My research combines biology with cutting-edge engineering techniques including computational analytics, high-resolution 3d analyses, finite element analyses, and computational simulations. These techniques together with experimental setups and in-situ observations unite the strands of paleontology, biology and engineering sciences which provide an integrative approach allowing for a deep understanding of the role of marine invertebrates through time.

 

Predation
 

Predation is a major biotic interaction by which the predator can leave recognizable traces in the skeletal hard parts of the prey item. By tracking predatory patterns and behavior through time, shifts of these parameters are used to interpret evolutionary pathways.

Functional morphology

Functional morphology describes the adaptation of organisms to their environment. These adaptations are often the result of pressure such as biotic interactions and abiotic influences. Engineering techniques, such as structural mechanics are used to understand structural adaptations.

Taphonomy
 

Taphonomy examines the alteration of organisms and their remains after the death of an individual, as well as alterations of biotic traces. Understanding taphonomic patterns, signals and filters are used to interpret ancient environments based on biotic remains and traces recovered from the fossil sedimentary record.

Computational analytics

Computational analytics promote calculations of large data sets and their visualization. Especiallt analyses and visualizations of 3d models are useful methods to understand the integration of structures.

Biomimetics
 

Biomimetics

Biomimetics is an integrative approach combining biology and engineering sciences. Evolved biological structures often provide solutions for today's technical challenges. Finding principles in organisms that improve or lead to the development of new technical systems is the aim of biomimetics.

Virtual reality
 

Virtual reality provides a platform that allows the analyses and presentation of 3d data in an 360° immersive environment.