Views on the Form-Function Correlation and Biological Design


The linkage between form and function is a fascinating field for intellectual analysis and contemplation in natural sciences by naturalists, biologists, anatomists, as well as philosophers and theologians. In the early nineteenth century, creationists’ approaches (Cuvier-Paley) helped to install the idea of a form-function binomial that gained scientific status in the second half of that century when it was contextualized within the framework of evolution by natural selection. In the mid-twentieth century, W.J. Bock and G. von Wahlert settled the modern basis for the elucidation of adaptation based on morphology, function, environment, and their interconnections. The paleontologist Leonard Burton Radinsky made significant contributions to the development of form-function studies. Also, his posthumously published book The Evolution of Vertebrate Design (1987), inspired many young biologists to embrace form-function approaches. Radinsky emphasized the importance of looking for the behaviors or functions that are actually correlated with a particular anatomical form in living species, together with a biomechanical design analysis as looking at that anatomical structure from a biomechanical or engineering perspective. Field biology research and testing form-function correlation should be a prerequisite in adaptation research programs.

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To Guillermo Cassini and Néstor Toledo, organizers of the Symposium El paradigma de correlación forma-función en mastozoología: un tributo a Leonard Radinsky (1937–1985), held during the XXXI Jornadas Argentinas de Mastozoología (October 23-26, 2018) in La Rioja, Argentina. To G. Cassini, N. Toledo, and Richard Kay for fruitful discussions before and during the writing of this manuscript. To two anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions on the manuscript.


This is a contribution funded by Universidad Nacional de La Plata (UNLP 11/N867) and Agencia Nacional de Promoción Científica y Tecnológica (PICT 2017–1081), Argentina.

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Correspondence to Sergio F. Vizcaíno.

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Vizcaíno, S.F., Bargo, M.S. Views on the Form-Function Correlation and Biological Design. J Mammal Evol 28, 15–22 (2021).

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  • Radinsky
  • Morphology
  • Biomechanics
  • Adaptation
  • Mammals