Phenotypic diversity is influenced by physical laws that govern how an organism's morphology relates to functional performance. To study comparative organismal biology, we need to quantify this diversity using biological traits (definable aspects of the morphology, behavior, and/or life history of an organism). Traits are often assumed to be immutable properties that need to be measured only a single time in each adult. However, organisms often experience changes in their biotic and abiotic environments that can alter trait function. In particular, structural traits represent the physical capabilities of an organism and may be heavily influenced by the rate at which they are exposed to physical demands (“loads”). For instance, materials tend to become more brittle when loaded at faster rates which could negatively affect structures trying to resist those loads (e.g., brittle materials are more likely to fracture). In the following perspective piece, we address the dynamic properties of structural traits and present case studies that demonstrate how dynamic strain rates affect the function of these traits in diverse groups of organisms. First, we review how strain rate affects deformation and fracture in biomaterials and demonstrate how these effects alter puncture mechanics in systems such as snake strikes. Second, we discuss how different rates of bone loading affect the locomotor biomechanics of vertebrates and their ecology. Through these examinations of diverse taxa and ecological functions, we aim to highlight how rate-dependent properties of structural traits can generate dynamic form–function relationships in response to changing environmental conditions. Findings from these studies serve as a foundation to develop more nuanced ecomechanical models that can predict how complex traits emerge and, thereby, advance progress on outlining the Rules of Life.
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- Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment
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- 4 to 13
- Medium: X
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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