Nicole Grunstra


FWF ESPRIT project leader: 
The Obstetrical Dilemma: Evolutionary Trade-Offs in the Human and Mammalian Pelvis (2023-2026)

phone: +43 1 4277 56714

 About me

I am an evolutionary anthropologist and a morphometrician. I specialize in evolutionary morphology of humans, non-human primates, and other mammals. I am interested in macroevolutionary patterns of trait evolution and how such patterns relate to microevolutionary processes and developmental constraints. My skills and expertise include human evolution, comparative biology, 3D geometric morphometrics, digital imaging, and phylogenetic comparative methods.

My specific research interests include the evolution of difficult childbirth in humans, mammalian pelvic morphology, adaptive and phylogenetic signals in complex traits, and the evolution of generalist (i.e. geographically unstructured) versus specialist (i.e. localized) phenotypes. I work on the pelvis, dentition, cranial variation, and inner ear morphology. I use a wide taxonomic scope that is often centered around, but not limited to, humans, and includes other mammals and even other amniotes. 

Currently, I am the PI of an Austrian Science Fund ("FWF") project focused on evolutionary trade-offs in the human and non-human mammalian pelvis. This project aims to elucidate the functional constraints that limit human pelvic canal size and flexibility, leading to a tight "fetopelvic" fit and contributing to difficult childbirth (an “obstetrical dilemma”).

Previously, I was a co-PI on the FWF-funded project on the evolvability of the middle and inner ear in mammals and birds (2020-2023).


Grunstra NDS, Hollinetz F, Bravo Morante G, Zachos FE, Pfaff C, Winkler V, Mitteroecker P, & Le Maître A (2023). Convergent evolution in Afrotheria and non-afrotherians demonstrates high evolvability in the mammalian inner ear. Preprint DOI

Grunstra NDS, Betti L, Fischer B, Haeusler M, Pavlicev M, Stansfield E, Trevathan W, Webb NM, Wells JCK, Rosenberg KR, & Mitteroecker P (2023). There is an obstetrical dilemma: Misconceptions about the evolution of human childbirth and pelvic form. American Journal of Biological Anthropology, 181(4), 535-544. DOI

Grunstra NDS, Louys J, Elton S (2023). Climate, not Quaternary biogeography, explains skull morphology of the long-tailed macaque on the Sunda Shelf, Quaternary Science Reviews, 310, 108121. DOI

Stansfield E, Kumar K, Mitteroecker P, & Grunstra NDS (2021). Biomechanical trade-offs in the pelvic floor constrain the evolution of the human birth canal. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), 118(16), e2022159118. DOI

Stansfield E, Fischer B, Grunstra NDS, Villa Pouca M, & Mitteroecker P (2021). The evolution of pelvic canal shape and rotational birth in humans. BMC Biology, 19(1), 1-11. DOI

Haeusler M, Grunstra NDS, Martin RD, Krenn VA, Fornai C, & Webb NM (2021). The obstetrical dilemma hypothesis: There’s life in the old dog yet. Biological Reviews, 96(5), 2031-2057. DOI

Fischer B, Grunstra NDS, Zaffarini E, & Mitteroecker P (2021). Sex differences in the pelvis did not evolve de novo in modern humans. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 5, 625-630. DOI

Mitteroecker P, Grunstra NDS, Stansfield E, Waltenberger L, & Fischer B (2021). Did population differences in human pelvic form evolve by drift or selection? Bulletins et mémoires de la Société d’anthropologie de Paris, 33(1), 11-26. DOI

Grunstra NDS, Bartsch SJ, Le Maître A, & Mitteroecker P (2021). Detecting Phylogenetic Signal and Adaptation in Papionin Cranial Shape by Decomposing Variation at Different Spatial Scales. Systematic Biology, 70(4), 694–706. DOI

Cazzolla Gatti R, Menéndez LP, Laciny A, Bobadilla Rodríguez H, Bravo Morante G, Carmen E, Dorninger C, Fabris F, Grunstra NDS, Schnorr SL, Stuhlträger J, Villanueva Hernandez LA, Jakab M, Sarto-Jackson I, & Caniglia G (2021). Diversity lost: COVID-19 as a phenomenon of the total environment. Science of the Total Environment, 756, 144014. DOI

Le Maître A, Grunstra NDS, Pfaff C, & Mitteroecker P (2020). Evolution of the mammalian ear: An evolvability hypothesis. Evolutionary Biology, 47, 187-192. DOI

Mitteroecker P, Bartsch SJ, Erkinger C, Grunstra NDS, Le Maître A, & Bookstein FL (2020). Morphometric Variation at Different Spatial Scales: Coordination and Compensation in the Emergence of Organismal Form. Systematic Biology, 69(5), 913-926. DOI

Grunstra NDS, Zachos FE, Herdina AN, Pavličev M, Fischer B, & Mitteroecker P (2019). Humans as inverted bats: A comparative approach to the obstetric conundrum. American Journal of Human Biology, 31(2), e23227. DOI

Grunstra NDS, Mitteroecker P, & Foley RA (2018). A multivariate ecogeographic analysis of macaque craniodental variation. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 166(2), 386-400. DOI