Laboratory of Primate Morphology

A Skeletal Study to Determine Environmental and Familial Effects on Health and Life Expectancy of Rhesus macaques from Cayo Santiago

Dr. Qian Wang, Texas A&M University College of Dentistry
The aim of this study is to reveal environmental and genetic effects on health conditions of the rhesus macaque colony at Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico. Bone dimensions, bone density, body mass, tooth eruption, and observable disease conditions of the rhesus monkey will be incorporated into the database with details on each individual’s sex, age, date of birth, pedigree information, and environmental context and population dynamics. Differences in skeletal characteristics and pathology status over time will be assessed, as well as familial differences in health, longevity, and age-related conditions.   The project brings together expertise in anthropology, biology, biomedical sciences and computer sciences.  The resulted data will provide a powerful non-human model for studying human disease, family history, development, individual experiences, and aging.   

Functional and evolutionary implications of integration in the vertebral column of catarrhines

Dr. Catalina Villamil
School of Health and Allied Sciences, Universidad Central del Caribe
Human evolution is associated with multiple changes in the skeleton, including in the vertebral column, primarily as a result of changes in our habitual posture and locomotion. The vertebral column is particularly interesting because it is composed of multiple repeated elements, which form via similar genetic and developmental processes. These shared processes result in phenotypic integration, or covariation, among traits, which can result in constraints on evolution at macroevolutionary and microevolutionary scales. This means that significant changes in vertebral form and function may reflect or result in modifications of those underlying genetic and developmental processes, as has been shown for other skeletal elements. We are investigating whether such changes occurred in primates, by characterizing and comparing phenotypic integration of the vertebral column in humans, chimpanzees, gibbons, and macaques. We hope to show whether changes in these underlying mechanisms occurred during the process of human evolution and primate evolution more generally, and if so, whether these are related to posture and locomotion, body size, or other factors.

The influence of environment and ancestry on developmental stability in Puerto Rico’s macaques

Ashly Romero
PhD student
University of Arkansas 
When you look around us, most animals have bilateral symmetry. While some level of background asymmetry exists in all organisms, larger random deviations from symmetry indicate issues during growth and development. The way that environmental stress and ancestry influence these deviations in primates remains unclear. My research aims to clarify how environmental stress (e.g., pathology and habitat disturbance) and ancestry (i.e., how individuals are related to one another) alter developmental stability in the cranium using geometric morphometric techniques. Understanding the role environmental stress and ancestry play in developmental stability is important because these factors influence the adult phenotype, which is subject to natural selection. Decreased developmental stability may result in new, advantageous phenotypes that can lead to the evolution of new traits. Knowledge of the degree to which stress affects development of the adult phenotype and its contribution to primate evolution is largely unknown, and this work will help elucidate this relationship.