Nicole Grunstra is a biological anthropologist and evolutionary morphologist, with a strong background in human evolution and functional, ecological, and evolutionary morphology of primates and other mammals. She furthermore has strong skills in 3D geometric morphometrics and digital imaging techniques, developed during her time at the University of Vienna. Central to her work is her passion for comparative morphology and natural history collections, as well as a fascination with macroevolutionary patterns of trait evolution and their relation to microevolutionary processes and developmental constraints. In line with this, Nicole frequently applies EvoDevo concepts in her work and is well-versed in phylogenetic comparative methods and multivariate statistics.
Nicole obtained her PhD (Biological Anthropology) from the University of Cambridge, In her dissertation, she investigated the spatio-environmental correlates of the taxonomic, phylogenetic and phenotypic divergence of macaques (Primates: Cercopithecidae) in Asia, using phylogenetic comparative, morphometric, and multivariate methods (https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.18511).
Nicole's recent postdoc work (University of Vienna) includes the decomposition of organismal form into components of variation at different spatial scales, which differentially preserve phylogenetic history, adaptation (Grunstra et al. 2020, Systematic Biology, https://doi.org/10.1093/sysbio/syaa093), coordinated and compensatory growth (Mitteroecker et al. 2020, Systematic Biology, https://doi.org/10.1093/sysbio/syaa007).
At the KLI, she developed her own line of research on human pelvic evolution and the evolution of difficult human childbirth in both an evolutionary medicine and a phylogenetic comparative framework. Together with her collaborators from the University of Vienna, she recently found support for the “pelvic floor hypothesis” of human pelvic evolution that predicts a trade-off between childbirth and pelvic floor support in the human bony pelvis (Stansfield et al., 2021, PNAS, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2022159118). Her comparative morphological work includes a recent publication on the similarities and differences in pelvic sex differences in humans and chimpanzees (Fischer et al., 2021, Nat Ecol Evol, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-021-01425-z). She also studies obstetric adaptations in the pelvic morphology of bats (Chiroptera), which give birth to young that weigh 10-45% of maternal body weight depending on the species – much larger than human babies!
She recently also continued her work on primate ecomorphology and biogeography in a collaboration, going more in-depth in the relationship between taxonomic and morphological differentiation and past biogeographic and climatic changes in Southeast Asia
Her theoretical interests include the definition, usage and detection of phylogenetic “constraints”, phylogenetic “effects”, and phylogenetic signal, as well as the utility and shortcomings of explanatory frameworks in biology of “ultimate” vs. “proximate” explanations, Tinbergen’s Four Questions, and the notion of “reciprocal causation” of the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis.