Being Human: Robert Sapolsky Video

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Audience participation time at Being Human

Have you joined us at one of our Being Human events?  These are The Leakey Foundation’s cool, casual lectures at Public Works in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco. We mix short talks from great minds with fun hands-on experiments, drinks, conversation, and storytelling. At each event we investigate different aspects of our evolution, our behavior, and the human experience.

Our inaugural Being Human in October 2015 featured Robert Sapolsky as a part of the Bay Area Science Festival. In this thought-provoking (and often humorous) talk we explored what makes humans unique and what similar behaviors we share with our primate relatives and other species in the animal kingdom.  As you might imagine, this talk was the perfect start to our lecture series about “Being Human.” Check out the video below!

If you are interested in attending one of our Being Human events, now is the perfect time! We are offering discounted tickets for our next event featuring Dan Lieberman on July 28th. As our very own kick-off for the San Francisco Marathon, we will explore how the human body evolved to run and how evolutionary insights can be used to prevent many kinds of injuries. Rumor has it there will even be a treadmill!  Click here to get your tickets now. Use promo code: TEAMLEAKEY16 for your 30% discount!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnlZwfD-GiU

Stay tuned for more videos from our first season of Being Human!

Grantee Spotlight: Kelsey Pugh

Kelsey Pugh

Kelsey Pugh

Kelsey Pugh was awarded a Leakey Foundation Research Grant during our spring 2016 cycle for her project entitled “Mid-Late miocene hominoid phylogeny: Implications for ape and human evolution.” She is a PhD candidate from the City University of New York. 

The living great apes, humans, and their fossil relatives (hominids) are among the most intensively studied mammals, yet many aspects of their shared evolutionary history are not well understood. In particular, the positions of many fossil species on the hominid family tree (phylogenetic relationships) are largely unknown or remain highly contentious, despite many recent fossil discoveries.

Excavating a suid mandible from Miocene deposits near Rudabánya, Hungary, with Dr. Jay Kelley

Excavating a suid mandible from Miocene deposits near Rudabánya, Hungary, with Dr. Jay Kelley

My project aims to more accurately infer phylogenetic relationships of hominids, and to use this information to gain a clearer understanding of great ape and human evolution. A better understanding of the hominid family tree will help clarify the evolution of characteristic ape traits and the dispersal patterns of fossil and living apes across Eurasia and Africa. This study will incorporate features from the entire skeleton, with an emphasis on the inclusion of characters from the postcranium in addition to traditional craniodental characters. Updated and modern character analysis and phylogenetic methods will be used to create and test competing hypotheses. Construction of a new and detailed dataset that samples all fossil great ape species, including the potential early hominins Sahelanthropus, Orrorin, and Ardipithecus, will allow me to address questions that are of key interest to paleoanthropologists, including whether these Late Miocene taxa are indeed more closely related to humans than to apes and what locomotor mode preceded upright walking.

This project represents the most comprehensive phylogenetic analysis of Mid-Late Miocene (~16-5 Ma) hominoids carried out to date and will provide the necessary context to frame taxonomic and paleobiological questions pertaining to living apes and humans within the broader context of the Miocene fossil record.

The Grant Application Deadline Approaches!

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by H. Gregory, Grants Associate

Paddy Moore and H. Gregory, The Leakey Foundation grants department

Paddy Moore and H. Gregory, The Leakey Foundation grants department

As most of you grant seekers are aware, the deadline to apply for a Leakey Foundation Research Grant in our fall 2016 cycle is July 15th. Because I am on the receiving end of our grants department email, I can tell there is a lot of grant writing going on around the world right now. While you get those proposals submitted, I thought I would share with you a few pointers based on some of the questions we have received.

Yes, something has changed. We now have a two page limit for appendices, supplemental attachments, and figures and tables combined. As per usual, we are unable to strictly enforce this rule this current cycle due to the fact this change came after we had already received some applications for fall. We will begin strictly enforcing the limit during our spring 2017 cycle.

Pay close attention to your budget. As the instructions state, we do not fund things such as equipment, trips to conferences, or salaries for senior project personnel. My advice on the budget is to move items that might be questionable to the budget column of other funding agencies to which you are applying. We do not outright reject budgets that have items we do not fund, but we will exclude those items if need be. Also, be careful with salaries. Proposals where the bulk of the requested funds are for salaries may not be seen by some as a good use of Leakey funds.

Letters of recommendation are typically late. If you are having a problem getting the letter in on time (for whatever reason), please do not worry. We will accept them for the coming weeks.

Finally, we rarely grant extensions to the deadline; however, we always consider proposals to be on time if they are in the system when we press “retrieve.” This always occurs the next business day after the deadline, which is Monday morning California time…

I wish all of you the best of success. Our cycles seem to be getting more and more competitive each year that passes, but typically the fall cycle has less applicants than in the spring.

Questions or concerns? Email us! grants@leakeyfoudation.org

Grantee Spotlight: Nicole Thompson

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Nicole Thompson

Nicole Thompson is a PhD candidate at Columbia University. She was awarded a Leakey Foundation Research Grant during our spring 2016 cycle for her project entitled “The benefits of social connections during development in blue monkeys in Kakamega, Kenya.”

We (primates) have strongly differentiated social relationships — not all social partners are created equal, and whom we associate with varies according to our sex, age, and environment. Although several decades of research have shown that the quality or quantity of relationships affects the survival and reproductive success (i.e. fitness) of modern-day humans, researchers are only beginning to understand the impact of relationships on fitness in non-human animals. How relationships influence fitness is perhaps the greatest current mystery, with evidence pointing to two major pathways: 1) avoiding predators and 2) either reducing exposure to stressors and/or increasing the ability to cope with them.

GreeHowever relationships influence fitness, it is likely that an extended period of immaturity has evolved in primates, in part, to develop important relationships and the skills to maintain them. Primates, and humans above all, have particularly long juvenile periods relative to other mammals of similar size. Juveniles are rarely subjects of field studies, but because they are especially vulnerable to predators and environmental stressors, while they prepare behaviorally and physiologically for adulthood, the advantages they receive are exceptionally important to lifetime success.

In my research, I ask two main questions. What are the patterns, or strategies, of social relationships during development? How do those patterns benefit individuals in the short-term, in ways that are likely to lead to long-term fitness? I research these questions in blue monkeys in the Kakamega Forest, Kenya, who, like humans, are gregarious and have a particularly long juvenile period, even among primates. To answer these questions I examine both behavioral and hormonal data. Answers will lend insight into both how complex, differentiated relationships and prolonged juvenility evolved in primates.

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Nicole Thompson

Grantee Spotlight: Kathryn McGrath

Kathryn McGrath collecting dental impressions of orangutan teeth at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History

Introducing our next spring 2016 grantee Kathryn McGrath. She was awarded a Leakey Foundation Research Grant for her project entitled “Understanding stress-related enamel defects in wild mountain gorillas.”

Kathryn McGrath collecting dental impressions of orangutan teeth at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History

Kathryn McGrath collecting dental impressions of orangutan teeth at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History

Teeth provide an enormous amount of information about their owner, including age at death, sex, and dietary adaptation. Teeth are also important to studies of health and development because they provide a permanent and detailed record of their absolute chronological growth. During childhood, stressors such as undernutrition and disease disrupt growth, creating horizontal grooves on the tooth surface. The condition marked by such defects is called linear enamel hypoplasia (LEH).

LEH is ubiquitous among living and fossil apes, including humans. In recent years, an exception to this pattern has been noted in the folivorous mountain gorilla. Two main hypotheses were put forward to explain the low frequency of LEH in this group: 1) a readily-available folivorous diet buffers mountain gorillas from seasonal lows in fruit availability, and 2) details of the underlying microanatomy of mountain gorilla teeth create shallower defects than in other great apes or humans. However, very few skeletal collections allow researchers to test these hypotheses. Only about 900 mountain gorillas exist today in the high altitude forests of central Africa, and not surprisingly, even fewer are available for study in museum collections. My dissertation research aims to assess LEH in the largest collection of mountain gorilla skeletons in the world, recently made available for study by the Mountain Gorilla Skeletal Project in Rwanda.

Virunga mountain gorillas. Photo credit: Jordi Galbany

Virunga mountain gorillas. Photo credit: Jordi Galbany

Preliminary data suggest that LEH frequency has been underestimated in mountain gorillas, although defects are notably shallower, and thus more difficult to identify using traditional methods (e.g., using a hand lens). I will use novel imaging and analytical methods to quantify LEH expression in mountain gorillas and a comparative sample of other great apes to establish quantitative criteria for defect identification. I will next assess the influence of underlying dental microanatomy on defect morphology by studying thin sections of great ape teeth. Finally, I will attempt to determine what behavioral or health factors might underlie LEH in mountain gorillas. This is possible because many mountain gorilla skeletons have associated records collected by behavioral researchers and veterinarians since Dian Fossey established Karisoke Research Center in 1967. Very little is known about what kinds of stress manifest in LEH in wild primates, and this project provides the rare opportunity to test hypothesized causes in the context of a long-term behavioral and climate dataset. Understanding the factors that underlie the variation in LEH among living great apes will greatly improve our ability to confidently interpret the same condition common among early humans in paleoanthropological contexts.

Left: Male mountain gorilla mandible. Middle: Left mandibular canine from the same individual. Right: High-resolution scan of enamel hypoplasia on the tooth surface.

Left: Male mountain gorilla mandible. Middle: Left mandibular canine from the same individual. Right: High-resolution scan of enamel hypoplasia on the tooth surface.