Nicole D. S. Grunstra

affiliated scientist
Human evolution · evolutionary anthropology ·  comparative morphology · primates · mammals
Nicole D. S. Grunstras ORCID record:

2023 - present PI of "The Obstetrial Dilemma: Evolutionary Trade-offs in the Human and Mammalian Pelvis", funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) (grant ESP 485).

2020 - 2023 co-PI of "Evolvability of inner and middle ears in birds and mammals,' funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) (grant P33736).

2019 - present PI of "Towards Resolving the Human Obstetric Conundrum: Theoretical, Computational, and Comparative Mammalian Approaches," funded by the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research, Klosterneuburg.

2019 - 2023 PI of Post-PhD Research Grant "Of mice and women: Disentangling the human obstetric conundrum using a comparative mammalian approach," funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research (grant 9784).


2018: PhD Biological Anthropology, University of Cambridge, UK (supervisor: Prof. R.A. Foley)

2016: Visiting scientist, Mitteroecker Lab, Dept. Theoretical Biology, University of Vienna, Austria.
2012: Visiting scholar, Hlusko Lab, Dept. Integrative Zoology, University of California, Berkeley, USA.
2009: MSc Cognitive & Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Oxford, UK.
2008: BA Anthropology, Psychology, Cognitive Neuroscience (major), and Linguistics (minor), University College Utrecht, Netherlands.


2023 – present: PI / ESPRIT Fellow (FWF), Dept. Evolutionary Biology, University of Vienna.

2022 – 2023: Postdoctoral researcher, Dept. Evolutionary Biology, University of Vienna.
2019 – 2021: Postdoctoral Fellow, Konrad Lorenz Institute (KLI) for Evolution and Cognition Research, Klosterneuburg, Austria.
2018 – 2019: Postdoctoral researcher, Dept. Theoretical Biology, University of Vienna.
2016 – 2017: Postgraduate researcher, Dept. Theoretical Biology, University of Vienna (supervisor: Prof. P. Mitteroecker)


2023 – present     Human Evolution & Archaeological Sciences (HEAS) network.

2019 – present     Affiliated Scientist, Mammal Collection, Natural History Museum Vienna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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, R.A. (2018). A multivariate ecogeographic analysis of macaque craniodental variation. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 166(2), 386-400. DOI

Grunstra NDS (2018). What’s in a Tooth? Signals of Ecogeography and Phylogeny in the Dentition of Macaques (Cercopithecidae: Macaca). PhD dissertation, University of Cambridge, UK. DOI
Le Maître A , Bartsch S, Grunstra NDS, Mitteroecker P (2020). prWarp: Warping Landmark configurations. R package version 1.0.0. https://cran.r-project.org/package=prWarp

Research Interests and Expertise

Human evolution  ·  pelvic morphology  ·  comparative anatomy  ·  digital imaging  ·  3D geometric morphometrics  ·  reproductive biology  ·  phylogenetic comparative methods  ·  functional trade-offs  ·  EvoDevo

About Me

I am an evolutionary anthropologist and my area of expertise is comparative and evolutionary morphology of primates and other mammals, collection-based research, geometric morphometrics and 3D imaging techniques. Presently, I conduct empirical and theoretical work on the mammalian pelvis in pursuit of understanding the evolution of the narrow pelvis and difficult childbirth in humans (the "obstetric conundrum"). Specifically, I lead a project devoted to studying the functional and evolutionary trade-offs in the mammalian, including human, pelvis.

Additional projects within this research framework include pelvic morphology in bats (Chiroptera), finite element analysis (FEA) of the human pelvic floor, and a comparative study of mammalian pubic symphysis morphology.

In my postdoctoral work at the Dept. Evolutionary Biology at the University of Vienna, I studied internal cranial anatomy in primates by means of micro-CT scans and 3D geometric morphometrics to investigate phylogenetic signal and ontogenetic patterns in primate cranial morphology. I collaborated with Prof. Philipp Mitteroecker (University of Vienna) to develop and apply novel methods to decompose organismal shape.

My PhD in biological anthropology (University of Cambridge, UK) focused on the taxonomic, phylogenetic, and phenotypic divergence in Macaca (Primates: Cercopithecidae) in an ecogeographic context (supervised by Prof. Robert Foley, FRS). I also applied EvoDevo concepts through a study of variational constraints in the craniodental phenotype of macaques. I used morphometrics, multivariate statistics, and phylogenetic comparative methods.



Google Scholar
University of Vienna

Research Funding 

€ 316,036, Austrian Science Fund (“FWF”) ESPRIT Fellowship: “The Obstetrical Dilemma: Evolutionary Trade-Offs in the Human and Mammalian Pelvis.” I am the PI and sole author/applicant of the grant.

€ 396,958, Austrian Science Fund (“FWF”): “Evolvability of inner and middle ears in birds and mammals.” I was a co-PI and a co-applicant/co-author of the grant.

$ 18,805, Wenner-Gren Foundation Post-Ph.D. Research Grant. I was the PI and sole author/applicant of the grant.

2010 – 2016       
I acquired a total of € 63,750 in various individual scholarships, awards and field-work grants from the Netherlands, the UK, and Austria to fund my PhD.

Awards and Fellowships

Young Investigator Award (€ 7,000), Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Vienna.

Postdoctoral fellowship, Konrad Lorenz Institute for Cognition and Evolution Research (Austria), 2.5 years.

Professional Service Work

Since 2019, I have been a Subject Editor for the international journal Mammalian Biology (areas: Primates, Morphometrics).

Since 2020, I have been the secretary of the Network of Biological Systematics (NOBIS) Austria.

1. zoology

Ahnelt Harald
associate scientist
Auer Helga
project researcher ECSA 2024
Bacher Florian
project researcher
Balaka Pia
Berg Hans-Martin
collection manager
Bibl Alexander
collection manager
Bogutskaya Nina
associate scientist
Chai Min
Project researcher
Duda Michael
Project researcher
Engelmaier Gernot
associate scientist
Ernst Karin
project researcher
Franzke Jennifer
associate scientist
Friedrich Rok
Project researcher
Gassner Georg
collection manager
Grillitsch Heinz
associate scientist
Haring Melina
Hengl Marietta
project researcher
Herzig Barbara
associate scientist
Illek Robert
head taxidermist
Kamschal Denise
technical assistant
Kirchner Sandra
Poject researcher for TETTRIs, Laboratory manager
Langnitschke Tim
scientific assistant
Leeb Christoph
project researcher „C321083 Biodiversitätsfonds“
Mikschi Ernst
head of department
Palandačić Anja
collection manager, staff scientist
Querner Pascal
Project researcher
Reier Susanne
Project researcher
Renner Swen
curator, senior scientist
Riedel Bettina
staff scientist & assistant to the head of department (1. zoology)
Rubin Iris
model and diorama builder
Saliari Konstantina
curator, staff scientist
Schedl Benjamin
project researcher Harrison Collection
Schiller Katharina
employee project digitization (currently on parental leave)
Schweiger Silke
curator, staff scientist
Sonnleitner Ria
project researcher "Gefährliche Fauna " (ÖBH)"
Sontag Walter, A.
associate scientist
Stefke Katharina
staff scientist
Stückler Susanne
project researcher "Synthesys"
Sumasgutner Petra
associate scientist
van den Elzen Renate
associate scientist
Viehauser Christof
scientific assistant
Wallner Nathalie
Administrative management, taxidermist
Witthoff Ronja
Wolf Paul
Project researcher
Wöss Günther
scientific assistant
Zachos Frank Emmanuel
curator, staff scientist