I am a biological anthropologist interested in exploring the interrelationships between early humans and their environment. The basic question I’m exploring is ‘Why and how did humans evolve?’. Specifically I’m attempting to understand how past environments may have selected for key evolutionary innovations that characterize fossil and modern humans, such as a large brain, bipedalism, an extended life history, shifting dietary niches, tool-use/hunting, language, and geographic expansion. An integral part of developing an environmental perspective for human evolution is also establishing an ecological context for fossil apes, from which the human lineage arose.
To investigate these issues, I have been involved in gathering paleoecological data relevant to reconstructing the adaptive landscape of our ancestors, primarily from fossil sites in East Africa. The aim of this research is to develop, refine, and integrate paleoecological evidence to increase our understanding of the co-evolution of community ecology, diet, and life history parameters in human evolution. Interpreting the fossil data relies on the comparative approach that ultimately requires characterizing the ecology of modern East African ape habitats to identify key information that can be retrieved from the fossil record. The foundation of my approach is built on a cross-disciplinary background in paleoanthropology, paleoecology, biogeochemistry, and evolutionary theory, involving field investigations in Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and South Asia. My laboratory research involves using stable isotopes and other biogeochemical approaches to reconstruct aspects of diet and environment in these past ecosystems.