I am a biological and molecular anthropologist, and am currently a Postdoctoral Scholar in Dr. Amanda Melin's Laboratory at the University of Calgary. I was previously an American Association of University Women Postdoctoral Research Fellow (2015-16) and a lecturer in Anthropology at Texas State University. I received my Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin, where I worked with Dr. Chris Kirk and Dr. Deborah Bolnick.
My research interests focus on three major questions surrounding the evolution of primate and human sensory systems:
(1) How have ecological factors (such as diet, foraging strategy, habitat type, or activity pattern) shaped interspecific differences in sensory systems?
In humans, primates, and other mammals, sensory systems are critical for nagivating the landscape, detecting food resources or predators, and evaluating food quality. Consequently, many species exhibit strong links between aspects of the species' ecology and sensory abilities. I study the sensory ecology of vision (visual acuity and color discrimination), taste, and touch across a variety of taxa, including many primates, humans, and non-primate mammals.
(2) What factors influence the evolution of intraspecific variation in sensory systems, both within and between populations?
In many species, individuals vary in their sensory function, such as in color discrimination (polymorphic trichromacy) or taste discrimination (e.g., PTC sensitivity). I am interested in exploring factors leading to the maintenance of this variation when it is found within populations (such as my work with trichromacy in sifaka. I am also interested in local adaptations of the sensory system, meaning variation between populations of the same species due to adaptation to local environmental conditions (such as human variation associated with subsistence strategy).
(3) How have primate and human sensory systems adapted to changing environments throughout evolution?
Major environmental shifts (such as in foraging strategy and habitat usage) are hypothesized to have played important roles during the course primate and human evolution. During hominin evolution, for example, there was a shift to more open environments and within the last 10,000 years of modern human evolution, a shift toward agriculture. Thus, exploring the relationships between ecological factors and sensory abilities can help evaluate primate and human evolutionary scenarios and help us better understand how these changing environments have shaped primate and human variation, behavior, and senses.