A report on the Rome Geometric Morphometric Workshop - January 2002

The "Laboratorio di Morfometria Geometrica" (Geometric Morphometric Workshop) was held at the Museo Civico di Zoologia, Roma (Italy) during January 14-18, 2002. The workshop was organized and directed by Anna Loy (Università del Molise), with the support and the sponsorship of the Museo Civico di Zoologia (Comune di Roma) and the AMNS (National Association of Scientific Museums). The 30 attendants were from Italy (20) and other countries (10, from Belgium, Germany, Portugal, UK, Argentina, Colombia, USA, Malawi). The instructors included Dean Adams (Iowa State University), Marco Corti (La Sapienza, Roma), Jim Rohlf (Stony Brook, SUNY) and Dennis Slice (University of Vienna). The structure of the workshop followed the standard adopted during several previous experiences, with lectures during the morning and work on the data during the afternoon.

After a general introduction to geometric morphometrics by M. Corti, the first day was devoted to a review of matrix algebra and multivariate statistics (J. Rohlf) and to hardware and software for data acquisition (D. Slice). During the second day, participants were introduced to the details of superimposition, thin plate spline (D. Slice) and to Kendall shape space and tangent space (J. Rohlf). Days three and four included presentations by D. Adams on exploratory and confirmatory analysis and case studies by A. Loy and M. Corti. During the last day a group of participants presented the work done during the week (see the list at the bottom), which constituted themes for further general discussion.

There were also lectures by J. Rohlf on methods for outline data and on "comparative methods" (see Rohlf, 2001, Evolution, 55:2143-2160). This last issue does not fall strictly into geometric morphometrics but it is important for many applications of morphometric methods.

Fourteen years have passed since the first "geometric" workshop at Ann Arbor, and since then, most of the methods and algebra are now much better understood. Kendall shape space and tangent space were unknown at that time and have long been mysterious to many practitioners. Nowadays, however, people do not look at geometric morphometrics as so much of an esoteric discipline. The Tps software produced by Jim Rohlf during the years, with its didactic and analytic approach had a remarkable impact to make clear the entire geometric manoeuvre on landmark data, and we could appreciate this effect during the workshop. There were many of the participants who came with work already done (thanks also to Anna Loy who encouraged students to practice using the software on real data in advance) and those who did not could quickly and easily enter into the geometric morphometric mode. It is also true that teachers came to Rome with quite a good experience for such workshops, so that teaching itself is getting more and more effective.

It became obvious that morphometric workshops should be considered and organised at least at two levels, i.e. introductory and for people who already have experience in the field. Papers are getting more widespread in scientific journals and the availability of software makes geometric morphometrics an attractive approach for biological problems, and the demand is increasing both at the introductory and the practitioner level. There is an increasing number of students from various countries who need confirmation to their own work which, most of the times, was planned and carried out autonomously with little or no help from original developers and early practitioners. This is also testified by the kind of messages posted into Morphmet during the last years and by the general demand for a primer.

More than the 50% of the students at the workshop have experience in multivariate statistics and geometric morphometrics. This includes a good part of Italian and all the non Italian students. Although moving from country to country for Europeans is getting more easy and encouraged, still the participation of four non European students (North and South America, Japan-Malawi) shows how the discipline is getting into its mature stage with the need of higher level meetings where one can get theoretical clarifications as well as comparison of her or his practical work with others. The illustration on how real biological cases have been carried out from step to step were important on this concern, and Dean Adams lectures were particularly appreciated.

There is a final issue which was made clear during the workshop: outlines are receiving more interest, landmarks may not be completely satisfactory as they often do not recover important aspects of biology that many students want and need (this is not just for botanists) to include into the dataset. The lecture by J. Rohlf on methods for outline data received a good attention but still leaved frustration in many as there is the theory to mix real landmarks with "semi" landmarks (i.e. outlines), but no really available software for it (apart that of Fred Bookstein for Unix machines).

All the students and teachers highly appreciated the work done by Anna Loy and the helpers (see the list). Thanks to them, we all spent the five days in a perfect environment.

Marco Corti
Dipartimento di Biologia Animale e dell'Uomo
Università di Roma "La Sapienza"

Presentations by participants:

Dominique Adriaens: Morphometric for testing methodology and functional morphology of catfishes.
Oliver Betz: Mandible shape variation in spore feeding Staphilinoidea (Coleoptera)
Andrea Cardini: Geometric morphometrics of marmot mandibles
Licia Colli: Sympatric populations of three woodmice species (genus Apodemus) in Venetian Pre-Alps & Alps.
Michael Collier: Morphological variation among populations of white sands pupfish
Corrado Costa: Dual camera system for measurement and extraction of outlines from fishes.
Natalie De Schepper: Inter and intraspecific variation of the postcranial skeleton of eellike Claridae
Daud Kassam: Body shape variation among coexisting trophic groups of Malawian cichlid fishes.
Angela Roggero: Genitalia morphology in Onthophaginae (Coleoptera Scarabeoidea)
Marta Rufino: Geographic and sexual morphometric variation of crabs (Decapoda, Brachiura)
Javier Reyes: Coral plasticity
Heroen Verbruggen: Morphological segment variability in the green seaweeds of the genus Halimeda.
Kristel Wautier: Diversity and evolution of teleost tooth shape: a case study using closely related cichlids


Francesca Beolchini
Emiliano Brunner
Simonetta Cellini
Sara Chiantini
Paolo Colangelo
Emanuela Solano
Ornella Spinosi
Arianna Tamburelli