Prof Paul O'Higgins

Head, Centre for Anatomical and Human Sciences

Professor Paul O'Higgins is Head of Centre for Anatomical and Human Sciences. His principal research interests concern the links between morphological variation, phylogeny, function and ontogeny in primates and other mammals, with work largely focused on the analysis of genetic and epigenetic influences on patterns of skeletal variation. In ongoing clinical collaborations he has applied geometric morphometrics to brain magnetic resonance images, facial growth and the dynamic analysis of facial muscle and limb function in health and disease.
Paul has wide experience of delivering topographical and microscopic anatomy courses at all levels of medical training.


After qualifying in Medicine, Professor Paul O'Higgins lectured in Anatomy at the University of Leeds then at the University of Western Australia. From 1994 he was Reader, then Professor of Anatomy, at University College, London. His research focuses on the evolution and function of the skeletal system, with an emphasis on comparative studies that have underpinned his contribution to the development and application of geometric morphometrics and finite element analysis to analyses of form and function. Clinical experience includes several years in Accident and Emergency Medicine in both Leeds and Western Australia with a special interest in sports injuries.

He was appointed as Head of the Centre for Anatomical and Human Sciences at Hull York Medical School in 2003.


Ongoing projects

Skeletal morphology of primates and other mammals

Morphometric and functional studies of living humans 

Professor O’Higgins’ principal interests concern the links between skeletal morphological variation, phylogeny, function and ontogeny. Most of his work is in mammals, especially primates and more recently (with Susan Evans and Michael Fagan) in tuataras and lizards.

His earliest work concerned the post-natal growth of the skull and spine in mice and apes and contributed to the development of an important new class of statistical and graphical methods for the analysis of form differences in biology, Geometric Morphometrics.  A key feature of his research has been the statistical analysis of structure in addressing the biological significance of skeletal variation. An important contribution has been the publication of widely used software for the full 3-dimensional modeling and analysis of shape variations using these techniques (Morphologika and now the EVAN-Society toolbox; His studies of craniofacial evolution have shown how growth variations contribute to craniofacial variations amongst adult primates. These have related remodeling, ontogenetic shape changes and phylogeny to each other and have provided important new insights into the ontogeny of differences amongst sexes, subspecies and species.

In attempting to relate craniofacial growth to function he has most recently turned to collaborative studies that have developed state of the art functional simulations of the masticatory systems of primates, tuataras and lizards using FEA and MDA. Leverhulme Trust and BBSRC funded projects with Fagan concerned with modelling primate and with Evans modelling tuatara and lizard skull form and function have led to the development of novel technologies combining our high resolution FE software tool VOX–FE designed for biomechanical work with our newly developed Evan GMM toolbox designed for high resolution 3D morphometrics. This advance is likely to transform simulation and assessment of musculoskeletal form-function relationships.

He has also maintained an interest in clinical anatomical research throughout his career.   Thus, his research in skeletal remodelling led to collaborative studies of age changes in the incus that gave the first indication of biomechanically induced changes in the incus of possible significance in relation to noise exposure.  He applied morphometric methods in collaborative work leading to the discovery of disturbances of median nerve mobility in diffuse repetitive strain injury. Further clinical collaborations have applied shape analysis to brain magnetic resonance images to examine the morphological consequences of longstanding severe epilepsy, and ongoing collaborations are examining facial growth in relation to orthodontics and maxillofacial surgery. Most recently his work has progressed to the application of geometric morphometrics to forensics and to the kinematic analysis of  breathing,  chewing,  facial muscle and limb function in health and disease.

In summary his research involves many diverse local and international collaborations with colleagues in biological and clinical disciplines. These are interwoven through their use of morphometric and biomechanical methods and include comparative studies of craniofacial growth in living primates; studies examining the ontogenetic basis of the evolution of cranial and postcranial variation and computer aided diagnosis using biomedical imaging modalities
Selected publications from the last five years. Full publications list available here.

Edited books

  • Elton, S & O’Higgins, P. 2008. Medicine and Evolution: Current Applications, Future Prospects. Boca Raton: Taylor & Francis. pp 297. ISBN: 9781420051346.

Chapters in books

  • O’Higgins P and Elton S (2008) Is there a place for evolutionary medicine in UK medical education? In: Medicine and Evolution: Current Applications, Future Prospects, pp. 257-272, Sarah Elton and Paul O’Higgins (Eds). Boca Raton: Taylor and Francis.

  • Elton, S. & O’Higgins, P. (2008). Introduction to Medicine and Evolution: Current Applications, Future Prospects, pp. 1-8, Elton & O’Higgins (Eds).  Boca Raton: Taylor & Francis.

Refereed journal articles

  • Bastir M, Rosas A,  Lieberman DE, O’Higgins P (2008) Middle cranial fossa anatomy and the origin of modern humans. Anatomical Record, 291(2):130-40

  • Curtis N, Kupczik K, O’Higgins P, Moazen M, Fagan M.J.  (2008) Predicting Skull Loading: Applying Multibody Dynamics Analysis to a Macaque skull. Anatomical Record 291:491–501

  • Franklin, D., O’Higgins, P, and Oxnard, C.E. 2008. Sexual Dimorphism in the Mandible of Indigenous South Africans: A Geometric Morphometric Approach. South African Journal of Science 104(3/4):101-106.

  • Franklin, D., O’Higgins, P., Oxnard, C.E., and Dadour, I. (2008). Discriminant function sexing of the mandible of indigenous South Africans.  Forensic Science International 179: 84.e1-84.e5.

  • Franklin, D., Cardini, A., O’Higgins P, Oxnard, CE., and Dadour I. (2008). Mandibular Morphology as an Indicator of Human Subadult Age: Geometric Morphometric Approaches. Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology 4 (2): 91-99.

  • Moazen M, Curtis N, Evans SE, O’Higgins P, Fagan MJ (2008) Rigid-body analysis of a lizard skull: modelling the skull of Uromastyx hardwickii. Journal of Biomechanics 41:1274-1280

  • Moazen M. Curtis N. O’Higgins, Jones MEH, P.Evans S.E. & Fagan MJ. (2008) A novel assessment of the role of sutures in a lizard skull. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B 276:39–46

  • Moazen M. Curtis N. Evans S.E. O’Higgins P & Fagan MJ. (2008) Combined finite element and multibody dynamics analysis of biting in a Uromastyx hardwickii lizard skull. Journal of Anatomy 213:499-508

  • Meloro C, Raia P, Piras P, Barbera C, O’Higgins P. (2008) The shape of The mandibular corpus in large fissiped carnivores: allometry, function and phylogeny. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.  154:132-145

  • M Moazen, N Curtis, SE Evans, P O’Higgins, MJ Fagan. (2009) Biomechanical assessment of evolutionary changes in the lepidosaurian skull. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 20, 8273-8277, 2009.

  • Gröning, F., Liu, J., Fagan, M. J. & O'Higgins, P. (2009). Validating a voxel-based finite element model of a human mandible using digital speckle pattern interferometry. J Biomech 42: 1224-1229

  • K Kupczik, CA Dobson, RH Crompton, R Phillips, CE Oxnard, MJ Fagan, P O’Higgins. (2009) Masticatory loading and bone adaptation in the supraorbital torus of developing macaques. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 139: 193-203

  • Ibanez AL, Cowx IG  and O’Higgins P. (2009) Variation in elasmoid fish scale patterns is informative with regard to taxon and swimming mode. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society  155:834-844

  • Oxnard CE, O’Higgins P (2009) Biology Clearly Needs Morphometrics.  Does Morphometrics Need Biology? Biological Theory.  4(1), 1-14

  • Curtis N, Jones, MEH, Evans SE, O’Higgins P, Fagan MJ. (2009). Visualising Muscle Anatomy Using Three-dimensional Computer Models - An Example Using the Head and Neck Muscles of Sphenodon. Palaeontologia Electronica 12, 3, 7T.

  • Jones M, Curtis N, Evans SE, O’Higgins P, Fagan MJ. (2009) The head and neck muscles associated with feeding in Sphenodon (Reptilia: lepidosauria: rhynchocephalia). Palaeontologia Electronica 12, 2, 7A.

  • Cardini A, Nagorsen D, O'Higgins P, Polly PD,. Thorington Jr RW, Tongiorgi P (2009) Detecting biological distinctiveness using geometric morphometrics: an example case from the Vancouver Island marmot. Ethology Ecology & Evolution 21: 209-223.

  • Bugaighis I, O'Higgins P, Tiddeman B, Mattick C, Ben Ali O, Hobson R (2010). Three-dimensional geometric morphometrics applied to the study of children with cleft lip and/or palate from the North East of England

  • The European Journal of Orthodontics. 32: 514-521.

  • Curtis N, Jones M, Evans SE, O’Higgins P, Fagan MJ. (2010) Predicting muscle activation patterns from motion and anatomy: modelling the skull of Sphenodon (Diapsida: rhynchocephalia). Journal of the Royal Society Interface, 7(42): 153-160

  • Curtis, N; Jones, MEH; Lappin, AK; O'Higgins P; Evans, SE; Fagan, MJ (2010).Comparison between in vivo and theoretical bite performance: Using multi-body modelling to predict muscle and bite forces in a reptile skull. Journal of Biomechanics. 43: 2804-2809.

  • Panagiotopoulou O, Curtis N, O’Higgins P & Cobb SN. (2010). Modelling subcortical  bone in finite element analyses: a validation and sensitivity study in the macaque mandible. Journal of Biomechanics. 43:1603-1611

  • Curtis N, Jones MEH, Evans SE, O'Higgins P, Fagan MJ (2010) Feedback control from the jaw joints during biting: An investigation of the reptile Sphenodon using multibody modelling. Journal of Biomechanics. 43: 3132-3137.

  • Adams, DC, Cardini A, Monteiro LR, O'Higgins P, and Rohlf FJ (2011). Morphometrics and phylogenetics: principal components of shape from cranial modules are neither appropriate nor effective cladistic characters. Journal of Human Evolution. 59:685-691

  • O'Higgins P, Cobb SN , Fitton LC , Groning F , Phillips R ,Liu J , Fagan MJ (2011). Combining geometric morphometrics and functional simulation: an emerging toolkit for virtual functional analyses. Journal of Anatomy 218:3-15.

  • Gröning F, Fagan MJ, O’Higgins P (2011) The effects of the  periodontal ligament on mandibular stiffness: a study combining finite element analysis and geometric morphometrics. Journal of biomechanics. 44(7): 1304-1312

  • Gröning F, Liu J. Fagan MJ, O’Higgins P (2011) .Why do humans have chins? Testing the mechanical significance of modern human symphyseal morphology with finite element analysis. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.21447

  • Jones MEH, Curtis N, Fagan MJ, O’Higgins P, Evans SE. (2011). Hard tissue anatomy of the cranial joints in Sphenodon (Rhynchocephalia): sutures, kinesis, and skull mechanics. Palaeontologia Electronica 14, Issue 2; 17A:92p;

  • Curtis N, Jones MEH, Shi J, O'Higgins P, Evans SE, Fagan MJ. (2011) Functional relationship between skull form and feeding mechanics in Sphenodon, and implications for diapsid skull development. PLoS ONE 6(12): e29804. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0

  • Ibanez AL and O’Higgins P. (2011) Identifying fish scales: The influence of allometry on scale shape and classification. Fisheries Research 109 (2011) 54–60

  • Curtis N, Witzel U, Fitton L, O'Higgins P, Fagan M. (2011). The Mechanical Significance of the Temporal Fasciae in Macaca fascicularis: An Investigation Using Finite Element Analysis. Anatomical Record. DOI: 10.1002/ar.21415

  • Watson PJ, O'Higgins P, Fagan MJ, Dobson CA (2011). Validation of a morphometric reconstruction technique applied to a juvenile pelvis Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part H: Journal of Engineering in Medicine January 1, 2011 vol. 225 no. 1 48-57

  • Meloro C, O’Higgins P. (2011). Ecological Adaptations of Mandibular Form in Fissiped Carnivora. Journal of Mammalian Evolution. 18, 185-200.

  • Higham T, Compton T, Stringer CB, Jacobi R, Shapiro E, Trinkaus E, Chandler B, Gröning F, Collins C, Hillson S, O’Higgins P, FitzGerald C, Fagan MJ. (2011) The earliest evidence for anatomically modern humans in Europe. Nature. 479 (7374), 521-4

  • Liu J, Shi L, Fitton L C, Philips R, O’Higgins P, Fagan M (2012) The application of muscle wrapping to voxel-based finite element models of skeletal structures. Biomech Model Mechanobiol. 11, 35-47.

  • Franklin D, Flavel A, Kuliukas A, Cardini A, Marks M K, Oxnard C, O’Higgins P (2012) Estimation of sex from sterna measurements in a Western Australian population, Forensic Science International, 217, 230.e1 – 230.e5

  • Gröning F, Bright J A, Fagan M J, O’Higgins P (2012) Improving the validation of finite element models with quantitative full-field strain comparisons. Journal of Biomechanics. 45: 1498-1506

  • Shi J, Curtis N, Fitton L C, O’Higgins P &Fagan M J (2012) Developing a musculoskeletal model of the primate skull: predicting muscle activations, bite force and joint reaction forces using multibody dynamics analysis and advanced optimisation methods. Journal of Theoretical Biology. 310: 21-30

  • Fitton LC, Shi JF, Fagan MJ, O’Higgins P. (2012). Masticatory loadings and cranial deformation in Macaca fascicularis: a finite element analysis sensitivity study. Journal of Anatomy. 221: 55-68

  • Jones M E H, O’Higgins P, Fagan M J, Evans S E, Curtis, N (2012) Shearing Mechanics and the Influence of a Flexible Symphysis During Oral Food Processing in Sphenodon (Lepidosauria: Rhynchocephalia). The Anatomical Record. DOI 10.1002/ar.22487

  • Milne N, O’Higgins P (2012) Scaling of form and function in the xenarthran femur: a 100-fold increase in body mass is mitigated by repositioning of the third trochanter. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2012.0593

  • O’Higgins P, Fitton L, Phillips R, Shi J F, Liu J, Gröning F, Cobb S N, Fagan M J (2012) Virtual functional morphology: novel approaches to the study of craniofacial form and function. Evolutionary Biology. DOI 10.1007/s11692-012-9173-8

  • Gröning F, Fagan M, O’Higgins P (2012) Modelling the human mandible under masticatory loads. Which input variables are important?, The Anatomical Record, 295 (5): 853-863

  • Franklin D, Flavel A, Kuliukas A, Cardini A, Marks M K, Hart R. Oxnard C, O’Higgins, P. (2012) Concordance of traditional osteometric and volume rendered MSCT interlandmark cranial measurements. International Journal of Legal Medicine, DOI 10.1007/s00414-012-0772-9

  • Gröning F, Fagan M, O’Higgins P (2012) Comparing the distribution of bone tissue in a human mandible: a finite element study, Anatomical Record, 296: 9-18

  • Proa M, O’Higgins P, Monteiro L R (2013) Type I error rates for testing genetic drift with phenotypic covariance matrices: a simulation study.  International Journal of Organic Evolution, doi:10.1111/j.1558-5646.2012.01746.x

  • Cardini A., Dunn J., O'Higgins P, Elton S. (2013) Clines in Africa: does size vary in the same way among widespread Sub-Saharan monkeys? Journal of Biogeography, 40(2): 370-381

  • O’Higgins P, Milne N (2013). Applying geometric morphometrics to compare changes in size and shape arising from finite elements analyses, Hystrix, the Italian Journal of Mammalogy, 24: 126-132

  • Gröning F, Jones MEH, Curtis N, Herrel A, O’Higgins P, Evans SE, Fagan M J (2013) The importance of accurate muscle modelling for biomechanical analyses: a case study with a lizard skull, Journal of the Royal Society Interface, doi:10.1098/rsif.2013.0216

  • Lacruz RS, Bermúdez de Castro JM, Martinón-Torres M, O’Higgins P; Paine ML, Carbonell E, Arsuaga JL, Bromage TG (2013)  Facial morphogenesis of the earliest Europeans. PLOS One, 8 (6), e65199

  • Martinkova N, Barnett R, Cucchi T, Struchen R, Pascal Ma, Pascal Mi, Fischer M C, Higham T, Brace S, Ho S Y W, Quere J-P, O'Higgins P, Excoffier L, Heckel G, Hoelzel A R, Dobney K M, Searle J B (2013) Divergent evolutionary processes associated with colonization of offshore island, Molecular Ecology, 22: 5205-5220

  • Bastir M, Martinez DC, Recheis W, Barash A, Coquerelle M, Rios L, Peña-Melián A, Rio F G, O’Higgins P (2013) Differential growth of the upper and lower human thorax, PloS One, 8 (9): e75128

  • Curtis N, Jones M E H, Evans S E, O'Higgins P, Fagan M J (2013) Cranial sutures work collectively to distribute strain throughout reptile skull, J R Soc Interface. doi: 10.1098/rsif2013.0442

  • Evteev A, Cardini A, Morozova A, O'Higgins P (2013). Extreme climate rather than population history explains mid facial morphology among Northern Asians. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.22444

  • Cucchi, T., Barnett, R., Martínková, N., Renaud, S., Renvoisé, E., Evin, A., ... & Dobney, K. M. (2014). The changing pace of insular life: 5000 years of microevolution in the Orkney vole (Microtus arvalis orcadensis). Evolution, 68(10), 2804-2820.

  • Toro-Ibacache, V., Muñoz, V. Z., & O’Higgins P. (2015). The relationship between skull morphology, masticatory muscle force and cranial skeletal deformation during biting. Annals of Anatomy-Anatomischer Anzeiger. 203:56-59

  • Toro‐Ibacache, V., Zapata MuÑoz, V., & O'Higgins P. (2015). The Predictability from Skull Morphology of Temporalis and Masseter Muscle Cross‐Sectional Areas in Humans. The Anatomical Record. 298: 107-121

  • Toro‐Ibacache, V., Fitton, L. C., Fagan, M. J., & O'Higgins P. (2015). Validity and sensitivity of a human cranial finite element model: implications for comparative studies of biting performance. Journal of anatomy. DOI: 10.1111/joa.12384

  • Fitton, L. C., Prôa, M., Rowland, C., Toro‐ibacache, V., & O'Higgins P. (2015). The impact of simplifications on the performance of a finite element model of a Macaca fascicularis cranium. The Anatomical Record, 298(1), 107-121.Lacruz, R. S., Bromage, T. G.,

  • O’Higgins P., Toro-Ibacache, V., Warshaw, J., & Berger, L. R. (2015). Distinct growth of the nasomaxillary complex in Au .sediba.Scientific Reports,5, 15175.

  • Lacruz RS, Bromage TG, O’Higgins P, Arsuaga J-L, Stringer C, Godinho RM, Warshaw J,  Martínez I, Gracia-Tellez A, Bermúdez de Castro JM & Carbonell E. (2015) Ontogeny of the maxilla in Neanderthals and their ancestors. Nature Communications 6.doi:10.1038/ncomms9996.

At HYMS Professor O’Higgins plays an active role in the delivery of the undergraduate medical curriculum and the MSc in Human Anatomy and Evolution. He is also involved in postgraduate supervision in relation to his own and joint research, and contributes to third year undergraduate teaching of human origins in relation the degree programme in Archaeology.
Professor O'Higgins was until recently a member of BBSRC Panel A, which awards national competitive grant support in the area of animal sciences. He is a Founder and former Board Member of the European Society for Human Evolution (ESHE;
In 2013 he was awarded the Rohlf Medal in morphometrics for his contributions to GM.

Professor O’Higgins is regularly invited to speak at international meetings and to deliver workshops in advanced quantitative and biomechanical methods applied to skeletal growth, function and evolution (e.g. 2011, workshop in GMM/FEA at U. of Chile, Santiago, Chile; 2012, workshop on GM, Portland Oregon, USA; 2012, GMM and FEA in comparative functional morphology, St. Petersburg, Russia; 2014, Show and Tell, Visualizing the Life of the Mind, University of Chicago; 2015, XXI Congress of the Italian Anthropological Association; 2015, Symposium on Translational Orthodontic Research, NYC; 2015, Evan training workshop, ESHE, London).

He regularly acts as referee for research grant applications made through the BBSRC, Wellcome Trust, Leakey Foundation, Australian Research Council, National Science Foundation (USA) and the Austrian Science Foundation. He is frequently asked to review articles for publication. He has recently acted as referee for Nature, The Journal of Anatomy (book and research articles); the Journal of Human Evolution; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; the Journal of Zoology; the American Journal of Physical Anthropology; and the Journal of Theoretical Biology.

Current and recent relevant collaborations include work modelling and comparing the mechanical behaviour of modern and fossil hominoid femora with Professor Roberto Macchiarelli, Paris, and Dr Luca Bondioli, Soprintendenza al Museo Nazionale Preistorico Etnografico Luigi Pigorini, Roma; hunter gatherer vs. agriculturalist femora with Dr Colin Shaw, Cambridge, UK; hominin cranial growth with Dr Rodrigo Lacruz, Prof Tim Bromage, NY, USA, and Dr Lee Berger, South Africa; artificial cranial deformation and its mechanical consequences for the individual with Dr German Manriquez, Universidad de Chile, Santiago; climatic adaptation and evolution of the human mid face with Dr Andrej Evteev, Moscow state University; skeletal mechanics and limb kinematics with Prof Nick Milne, UWA, Australia; and applications of geometric morphometrics (GMM) to Forensic identification with Dr Dan Franklin and Professor Charles Oxnard, UWA, Australia. 

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