Evolutionary Neuroscience | Hard Tissue Biology Hominid Paleobiology | Primate Behavioral Ecology | Primate Genomics | Social Cognition | Stone Age Archaeology

Evolutionary Neuroscience

Director, Chet C. Sherwood.

The Laboratory for Evolutionary Neuroscience is dedicated to research on the evolution of brain structure in primates and other mammals. The lab’s research combines neuroscience, behavioral science, and evolutionary biology to investigate how species differences in brain anatomy relate to sensorimotor and cognitive adaptations. Current studies are aimed at examining the molecular and cellular architecture of the modern human cerebral cortex in comparison with our close living relatives, the great apes.

Major equipment:

Zeiss Axioplan 2 microscope equipped for fluorescence, brightfield, and polarized light; MBF Bioscience integrated stereology and neuron reconstruction analysis software; Agilent Stratagene Mx3005p qPCR system; Equipment for histological sectioning, immunocytochemical staining, and Western blotting.

Sample publication:

D.J. Miller, T. Duka, C.D. Stimpson, S.J. Schapiro, W.B. Baze, M.J. McArthur, A.J. Fobbs, A.M.M. Sousa, N. Sestan, D.E. Wildman, L. Lipovich, C.W. Kuzawa, P.R. Hof, and C.C. Sherwood (2012) Prolonged myelination in human neocortical evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 109: 16480-16485. 

Hard Tissue Biology

Director, Shannon C. McFarlin.

Since bones and teeth form the basis of the hominid fossil record, understanding the anatomy, development, and function of these tissues is critical for interpreting the life events, behavior and environments of early human ancestors. Current research interests include investigating bone and tooth micro-anatomical correlates of life history and skeletal function, and studies of wild primate populations that have been the subject of long term field observation, to more fully understand the manner in which specific features of individual life histories, environments and stress impact the microscopic anatomy of developing hard tissues.

Major equipment:

Buehler Isomet 1000 precision saw; Buehler Ecomet 4000 grinding/polishing machine, and other standard equipment necessary for the histological preparation of hard tissue thin sections; Microscopy resources include an Olympus SZX12 stereomicroscope, Zeiss AxioImager microscope configured for circularly polarized light and fluorescence imaging, integrated MBF Bioscience Stereo Investigator software for stereology, and an Olympus BX50 confocal laser microscope.

Sample publication:

McFarlin S.C., Terranova C.J., Zihlman A.L., Enlow D.H., Bromage T.G. (2008) Regional variability in secondary remodeling within long bone cortices of catarrhine primates: the influence of bone growth history. Journal of Anatomy 213: 308-324.

Hominid Paleobiology

Director, Bernard A. Wood

Research focuses on improving our ability to a) recognize hominin species and genera, and b) reconstruct higher primate phylogeny using evidence from the fossil record. Recent research has included investigating the molecular control of regions prone to homoplasy (e.g., teeth, cranial base), using dental histology to determine if apparently similar morphology at the macrostructural level has the same microstructural basis, using micro-CT to image the EDJ and compare its performance for taxonomy and systematics to that of the outer enamel surface, comparative models to explore whether the genetic basis of integration can be used to identify characters that are unlikely to be affected by homoplasy, and using the comparative anatomy of soft tissues to determine whether hard-tissues are especially prone to homoplasy.

Major equipment:

Most of our research is done in collaborating laboratories in Finland, Italy, Spain, the UK and the US

Sample publications:

Wood, B and Baker, J ‘Evolution in the genus Homo’. (2012) Ann. Rev. Ecol., Evol. and Syst. 42: 47–69

Diogo, R. and Wood, B. ‘Soft-tissue anatomy of the primates: phylogenetic analyses based on the muscles of the head, neck, pectoral region and upper limb, with notes on the evolution of these muscles.’ (2012) J. Anat., 219: 273-359.

Primate Behavioral Ecology

Director, Carson M. Murray.

The Primate Behavioral Ecology Lab studies the adaptive value of social behavior in wild primates. We are particularly interested in how social relationships relate to individual variation in female reproductive success. Current projects include: the influence of maternal behavior on offspring outcomes in wild chimpanzees, comparative studies on the role of non-kin relationships on offspring, the transmission of stress reactivity across generations, and the adaptive value of female friendships. Our work relates short-term fitness consequences to long-term outcomes across the lifespan and across generations.

Major equipment:

Our Gombe field lab includes equipment for fecal collection and storage, and steroid hormone extraction: solar freezer, centrifuge, and rotator.

Sample publication:

Murray CM, Lonsdorf EV, Eberly LE, and AE Pusey. 2009. Rank-dependent reproductive energetics in free-living female chimpanzees. Behavioral Ecology 20: 1211-1216.

Primate Genomics

Director, Brenda J. Bradley.

Research in the Primate Genomics Lab integrates genetic analyses with behavioral, morphological, and environmental data to address questions about primate evolution. This includes studies of the genetic and social structure of wild primate populations, ranging from ruffed lemurs to mountain gorillas.  We are also interested in the molecular bases of primate adaptations and diversity. Recent projects have examined genes associated with facial morphology, pigmentation, meat-eating, sensory ecology, and behavioral tendencies. Current research in the lab also focuses on genes involved in primate pelage pigmentation, morphology and growth.
Major equipment:

Our lab is equipped for all front-end processing of RNA/DNA samples, including a QIAcube for automated nucleic acid isolation, a Qiagility for automated reaction set-up, a Qubit fluorometer, a Rotorgen quantitative PCR system and standard thermocyclers, as well as equipment for gel electrophoreses and imaging, an Ocean Optics spectrometer for measuring UV and visual spectra, and a ProScopeHR2 handheld digital microscope with exchangeable lenses (1-10x, 50x, 100x, 400x).

Sample publication: 

Bradley, B.J., Lawler R.R. (2011). Linking genotypes, phenotypes and fitness in wild primate populations. Evolutionary Anthropology 20: 104-119.

Social Cognition

Director, Francys Subiaul.

The Social Cognition Lab is broadly interested in how human and non-human primates extract information from their social environment. Such information may be used to understand the properties and usefulness of tools or to identify conspecifics likely to be good or bad collaborators. Using the methods of experimental psychology, participants are presented with various problem-solving tasks using computers or novel problem-boxes. Using these methods we are interested in the following inter-related questions: (1) what do observers learn from models, (2) why are certain things easier to imitate than others, (3) what are the cognitive building blocks of ‘cultural’ knowledge, (4) what is the relationship between innovation and imitation?

Major equipment:

Tobii Eye-tracker; Touch-screen computers


Orang-utans, Gorillas, Human Children

Sample publication:

Subiaul, F., Vonk, J., Okamoto-Barth, S. & Barth, J. (2008). Do chimpanzees learn reputation from observation? Evidence from direct and indirection experiences with generous and selfish strangers. Animal Cognition, 11(4): 611-23.

Stone Age Archaeology

Directors, Alison S. Brooks and David R. Braun

The Stone Age Archaeology Research Group includes diverse interests focused on the evolution of human behavior from a variety of different proxies. Particular research themes include biogeochemistry of ratite shells for geochronology; reconstruction of ancient diets using microfossils recovered from stone tools and dental calculus; three-dimensional analysis of archaeological materials; site formation processes through the com puterization of archaeological excavation techniques; geochemical provenance studies of stone age artefacts; the study of the mechanical properties of stone and its effect on artifact manufacture; and technological analysis of stone artefact manufacture across the full time span of human evolution. The lab is focused on primary data collection and the development of new methodologies for the study of ancient hominin behavior. Our lab is particularly fieldwork focused and students acquire primary data on a variety of paleoanthropological localities throughout Africa and Eurasia.

Major Equipment:

Full suite of materials for the assessment of amino acid racemization; digital microscopes; NextEngine 3D scanner; Proceq Silverschmidt Rebound hardness tester; VK Meter IV Ultransonic Flaw Detector; Leica 55 Builder Total Station; Trimble Yuma; Trimble Nomad (x2)

Sample Publications:

Brooks, A.S., J. E. Yellen, L. Nevell and G. Hartman (2006) Projectile technologies of the African MSA: implications for modern human origins. IN: E. Hovers and S. Kuhn (Eds.) Transitions before the Transition: Evolution and Stability in the Middle Paleolithic and Middle Stone Age New York: Kluwer/Plenum, pp. 233-255.

Braun DR, Harris JWK, Levin NE, McCoy JT, Herries AIR, Bamford MK, Bishop LC, Richmond BG, Kibunjia M. (2010) Early hominin diet included diverse terrestrial and aquatic animals 1.95 Ma in East Turkana, Kenya. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107(22): 10002.