Dietary Ecology and Human Sensory Systems

With a Mamanwa woman in the Philippines. The Mamanwa are traditionally rainforest Hunter-Gatherers.

With a Mamanwa woman in the Philippines. The Mamanwa are traditionally rainforest Hunter-Gatherers.

Olfaction guides many animals to food sources and allows them to discriminate between edible and inedible foods. The same has probably been true for humans throughout our evolutionary history. Agriculture and industrialization have changed the ways in which humans acquire and assess foods, so it is likely that selection on the sensory systems important in food procurement have changed in response. I am collaborating with scientists at Dartmouth, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of Texas at Austin to analyze differences between olfactory receptor repertoires in six populations of rainforest Hunter-Gatherers and neighboring Agriculturalists in Africa and Asia. Targeted sequencing of sensory receptor genes across these populations may reveal levels of selection related to foraging strategy, as well as reveal adaptations to local environments. 

Vision-Olfaction Trade-off

I am passionate about testing evolutionary hypotheses related to a trade-off between smell and vision in primate evolution. I am currently working on projects that address primate sensory trade-off by integrating genomic data and morphological variation in the sensory systems. I'm comparing changes in the main and vomeronasal olfactory systems as they relate to changes in color vision and high visual acuity in primates and other mammals. I will also integrate findings from primate fossils to understand timing and context for some of these major changes in primate sensory landscapes.