2020-02-15 - 2020-08-14 | Research area: EvoDevo
Diet is a direct link between an animal and its environment, and is hypothesized to be a key driver behind hominin speciation. To unravel dietary shifts within fossil hominins, we first need a good understanding of the dietary ecology and intraspecific variation in living primates. As our closest living relatives, chimpanzees may be especially relevant for studying the nature in fossil hominins. Their taxonomic diversity provides a unique opportunity to examine intraspecific variation. Furthermore, studies of patterning of intraspecific variation should allow more closely investigating questions about their local adaptations, environmental changes, and occupation of ecological niches.
My research will focus on the form and function of teeth and dietary adaptation in chimpanzees. The main target is to quantify tooth wear, getting a more complete picture of physiological responses to dietary as well as environmental shifts, and to find out how these shifts are reflected in tooth wear. Therefore, I investigate first the microscopic tooth wear in specimens of a very well-studied chimpanzee population (Pan troglodytes verus from the Taï National Park) and compare it to specimens from a historical population of the same subspecies from Liberia to test the influence of dietary and environmental shifts in one subspecies. Second, I examine the cusp topography in several molar wear stages (macroscopic tooth wear) in the same chimpanzee specimens to test whether long-term dietary and environmental shifts are reflected in the tooth occlusal morphology.
This project will provide a comprehensive picture of dietary and functional masticatory adaptations in two populations of P. t. verus, and may help to better understand the feeding ecology and morphological adaptations in fossil hominins.