Ph.D., Penn State University
How did humans become humans? (The same for chimpanzees, dogs, etc.) And how does evolution work? These are the questions that drive my research and educational endeavors.
As part of an international team, I perform paleoanthropological fieldwork on Rusinga and Mfangano Islands in Western Kenya. Fossils from these sites represent plants and animals that lived in the early Miocene epoch (dating to about 20-18 million years ago), some of which, like the primate Proconsul, are good candidates for some of the earliest apes. Without the origin of apes, chimpanzees and humans would not have occurred. This work is not only geared toward finding more specimens of Proconsul and other primates, but we are also reconstructing the paleoenvironments in which these primates lived and evolved.
Living apes, not just fossils, also offer a glimpse of evolution. So along with another team of collaborators, I study energy use in apes and other mammals. Mammals process energy differently from one another and these differences may reflect different evolutionary selection pressures both internally within the organism and externally from the environment. Energetic use in humans is fairly well understood but it's only through comparison with other species that we can understand human energetics from an evolutionary perspective. Likewise, human data are necessary for understanding the energetic use of the chimpanzees and gorillas that we have studied. I am particularly interested in the energetics and metabolic parameters of pregnancy, fetal growth, infant growth, and lactation and how those determine the timing of birth in humans and other mammals.
I teach courses in biological anthropology which include Human Origins (APG 201), Sex and Reproduction in Our Species (APG 310), Human Variation (APG 350), and The Human Fossil Record (APG 300). Also, I regularly contribute to the science blog The Mermaid's Tale.
New Faculty in Sociology:
Dr. Melanie S. Brasher has joined the department as an Assistant Professor of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology from Duke University in 2013. Prior to coming to URI, Dr. Brasher was a visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology at Dickinson College. Her appointment is a joint appointment in Sociology and in Human Development and Family Studies where she will participate in the Gerontology program. For more info click here.
For the second year in a row, an anthropologist has been awarded the University’s Early Career Research Award. Assistant Professor Holly Dunsworth received the 2014 award for her research comparing energy use in apes and other mammals with particular reference to how the energetics and metabolic parameters of pregnancy, fetal growth, infant growth, and lactation and how those determine the timing of birth in humans and other mammals. Kudos to Holly!!!
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