Future Tail Tales: A Forward-Looking, Integrative Perspective on Tail Research

MJ Schwaner and ST Hsieh and I Braasch and S Bradley and CB Campos and CE Collins and CM Donatelli and FE Fish and OE Fitch and BE Flammang and BE Jackson and A Jusufi and PJ Mekdara and A Patel and BJ Swalla and M Vickaryous and CP McGowan, INTEGRATIVE AND COMPARATIVE BIOLOGY, 61, 521-537 (2021).

DOI: 10.1093/icb/icab082

Tails are a defining characteristic of chordates and show enormous diversity in function and shape. Although chordate tails share a common evolutionary and genetic-developmental origin, tails are extremely versatile in morphology and function. For example, tails can be short or long, thin or thick, and feathered or spiked, and they can be used for propulsion, communication, or balancing, and they mediate in predator- prey outcomes. Depending on the species of animal the tail is attached to, it can have extraordinarily multi-functional purposes. Despite its morphological diversity and broad functional roles, tails have not received similar scientific attention as, for example, the paired appendages such as legs or fins. This forward-looking review article is a first step toward interdisciplinary scientific synthesis in tail research. We discuss the importance of tail research in relation to five topics: (1) evolution and development, (2) regeneration, (3) functional morphology, (4) sensorimotor control, and (5) computational and physical models. Within each of these areas, we highlight areas of research and combinations of long-standing and new experimental approaches to move the field of tail research forward. To best advance a holistic understanding of tail evolution and function, it is imperative to embrace an interdisciplinary approach, re-integrating traditionally siloed fields around discussions on tail-related research.

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