We can gain biomechanical insights if we couple knowledge of the environments, ecological roles and life history strategies of organisms with our laboratory analyses of their mechanical function or fluid dynamics, as illustrated by studies of the mechanical design of bottom-dwelling marine organisms. Obviously, measurements of the spatial and temporal distribution of loads on an organism in nature reveal the magnitudes and rates at which biomechanical tests should be performed in the laboratory. Furthermore, knowledge of the population biology and ecological interactions of the organisms being studied is crucial to determine when during the life of an individual particular aspects of mechanical performance should be measured; not only can the size, shape and material properties of an individual change during ontogeny, but so can its habitat, activities and ecological role. Such ecological information is also necessary to determine whether the aspects of mechanical performance being studied are biologically important, i.e. whether they affect the survivorship or fitness of the organisms. My point in raising these examples is to illustrate how ecological studies can enhance or change our understanding of biomechanical function.

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