A meeting in Vienna in October 2010 brought together researchers using Virtual Anthropology (VA) and Finite Element Analysis (FEA) in order to explore the benefits and problems facing a collaboration between the two fields. FEA is used to test mechanical hypotheses in functional anatomy and VA complements and augments this process by virtue of its tools for acquiring data, for segmenting and preparing virtual specimens, and for generating reconstructions and artificial forms. This represents a critical methodological advance because geometry is one of the crucial inputs of FEA and is often the variable of interest in functional anatomy. However, we currently lack tools that quantitatively relate differences in geometry to differences in stress and strain, or that evaluate the impact on FEA of variation within and between biological samples. Thus, when comparing models of different geometry, we do not currently obtain sufficiently informative answers to questions such as "How different are these models, and in what manner are they different? Are they different in some anatomical regions but not others?" New methodologies must be developed in order to maximize the potential of FEA to address questions in comparative and evolutionary biology. In this paper we review these and other important issues that were raised during our Vienna meeting.
Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.