Finite element (FE) models are popular tools that allow biologists to analyze the biomechanical behavior of complex anatomical structures. However, the expense and time required to create models from specimens has prevented comparative studies from involving large numbers of species. A new method is presented for transforming existing FE models using geometric morphometric methods. Homologous landmark coordinates are digitized on the FE model and on a target specimen into which the FE model is being transformed. These coordinates are used to create a thin-plate spline function and coefficients, which are then applied to every node in the FE model. This function smoothly interpolates the location of points between landmarks, transforming the geometry of the original model to match the target. This new FE model is then used as input in FE analyses. This procedure is demonstrated with turtle shells: a Glyptemys muhlenbergii model is transformed into Clemmys guttata and Actinemys marmorata models. Models are loaded and the resulting stresses are compared. The validity of the models is tested by crushing actual turtle shells in a materials testing machine and comparing those results to predictions from FE models. General guidelines, cautions, and possibilities for this procedure are also presented.
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