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Anna Barros

Anna Barros

Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 8629


Teaching Fellow in Biological Anthropology

PhD Biological Anthropology (2013)
Title: “Ontogeny, phylogeny and functional anatomy of the hominoid shoulder

MSc Human Evolution & Behaviour
University College London (2008)

BSc (Hons) Prehistoric Archaeology & Biological Anthropology
University of Toronto, Canada (2006)


Kivell TL, Barros A and Jeroen S. 2013. Different evolutionary pathways underlie the morphology of wrist bones in hominoids. BMC Evolutionary Biology 13:229 [PDF]

Barros A and Soligo C. 2013. Bilateral asymmetry of humeral torsion and length in African apes and humans. Folia Primatologica 84:220–238 [PDF]

Research Interests:

  • Hominoid postcranial anatomy
  • Ontogeny
  • Functional morphology
  • Primate locomotion
  • Phylogenetic Comparative Methods (PCMs)

Understanding how morphology reflects function is crucial for reconstructing past behaviour and locomotion. My research contributes towards a better knowledge of ‘form-function’ relationships by studying extant hominoid postcranial anatomy from an ontogenetic perspective. In particular, I am interested in how growth and development shape adult postcranial morphologies and whether ontogeny (i.e. structural change through growth and development) can be of use in addressing issues of ‘homology versus homoplasy’ in hominoid skeletal anatomy. Within postcranial anatomy, I am interested in the morphology of the hominoid shoulder girdle and upper arm, as this anatomical area has the potential to inform about aspects of locomotion (such as the evolution of knuckle-walking) as well as important aspects of behaviour (such as functional asymmetries and the evolution of handedness).

PhD Thesis

My PhD thesis focused on the ontogeny, phylogeny and functional morphology of the shoulder girdle in hominoid primates (gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, gibbons and humans). I tested whether the anatomical similarities in extant hominoid shoulder structures arose through similar developmental processes in order to assess whether they are homologous (shared derived from a common ancestor) or homoplastic (the result of parallel evolution). In order to do, I developed and/or applied a variety of innovative approaches to analyse shoulder bone morphology in 3D virtual environments, including:

  1. the application of growth curves to individually aged hominoid specimens,
  2. the use and creation of atlases of dental development,
  3. the application of Phylogenetic Comparative Methods to postcranial data of extant and extinct species.
  4. and cross-species comparative analyses of bilateral asymmetries.

Overall, my thesis demonstrated that there are, on the one hand

  1. high levels of plasticity in key diagnostic traits of hominoid shoulder morphology (such as humeral torsion) and on the other hand
  2. considerable genetic constraint in other key traits (such as the proximal curvature of the clavicle and glenoid fossa orientation).

Overall, my results suggest a relative independence between aspects of shoulder morphology, supporting the idea of mosaicism in the evolution of the hominoid shoulder. Importantly, my thesis shows that hominoid shoulder joint morphology is the result of both homologous and homoplastic processes in this clade.

In combination, these aspects of my PhD research contribute towards a better understanding of the development, functional morphology and evolution of the shoulder anatomy in hominoid primates.


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