1. The REACHE project:
The REACHE (Research on East African Catarrhine and Hominoid Evolution) project is funded by the NSF Integrative Paleoanthropology Grant (IPG) program through 2018. The is goal of the project is to investigate the role the environment may have played in selecting for key adaptive features relevant to the evolution of hominoids and to the origin of hominins. This is being addressed through the establishment of a multi-disciplinary collaboration to fully chronicle the geochronology, paleoenvironment, and biogeography of all hominoid sites in the early Miocene of East Africa. This contextual data will allow numerous hypotheses about the adaptive significance of features relevant to the evolution of later hominoids and, importantly, to the origin of hominins (including enhanced limb joint mobility, upright posture, more advanced subnasal morphology, large body size and more specialized dietary adaptations), to be tested. The REACHE project has generated significant collaborations and intellectual infrastructure, involving multiple research teams (including Kieran McNulty, David Fox and Martha Tappan (University of Minnesota); Isaiah Nengo (De Anza College); Ellen Miller (Wake Forest University); Thomas Lehmann (Senckenberg-Forschungsinstitut und Naturmuseum); Nancy Stevens (Miami University Ohio); Emma Mbua and Frederick Manthi (National Museums of Kenya); Robert Kityo and Amon Mugume (Makerere University); James Rossie (SUNY Stony Brook); Mercedes Gutierrez (Tufts University); Susanne Cote (University of Calgary); Daniel Peppe and Steven Driese (Baylor University); Alisa WInkler and Bonnie Jacobs (Southern Methodist University); Alan Deino (Berkeley Geochronology Center); Pierre-Olivier Antoine (Universite Montpellier); Maeva Orliac (Royal Museum for Central Africa); John Kingston and William Sanders (University of Michigan)) and National Museums in both Kenya and Uganda, modeling a new mode of paleoanthropological research.
2. Wild Chimpanzee Locomotor and Skeletal Development:
It is well established that anatomical form and function are correlated, but the bi-directional nature of this relationship continues to be researched. While anatomy clearly both constrains and facilitates movement, the effect that use (i.e. the loading environment) vs. genetics has on the strength and shape of bone has only recently become better understood.
Former PhD graduate Lauren Sarringhaus completed a study chronicling the changes in locomotion and bone shape that occur in wild chimpanzees from infancy to adulthood. The locomotor data was integrated with anatomical data in order to 1) improve our understanding of the dynamic nature of the relationship between bone function and shape, 2) improve our ability to reconstruct the locomotion of fossil apes and humans and 3) further illuminate how primate anatomical variation constrains and facilitates performance in the wild.
3. East African Biodiversity and Ecological Change:
The goal of this project is to collect modern tropical habitat biodiversity data at several national parks and forest reserves in Uganda. These data sets will be compared to the faunal composition found at fossil sites in order to help us understand the paleoenvironment of ancient African fossil communities. Once we reconstruct the environment, it will help us determine the regional patterns of change and the site-specific ecologies of ancient fossil sites in East Africa. This will have considerable scientific merit as it may allow us to understand the environmental context that may have selected for evolutionary innovations in the ape and human lineages (e.g. the evolution of upright posture, large brains and large body size) in the early Miocene.
The work is being conducted in partnership with Professor Robert Kityo, Biological Sciences Department, Makerere University, Kampala Uganda, and his graduate students.