Collaborative Research: Understanding Temporal Variation in Primate Communities: Integrating Data from Extant and Fossil Species

Project: Research project

Project Details


PROJECT SUMMARY: The project seeks to examine primate community phylogenetic and trait structure across space and through time with abiotic and biotic factors suggested to cause the changing distributions and adaptations of primate species. The project is unique because fossil assemblages will be integrated with extant community data for macroecological analyses. Species distribution and co-occurrence data, functional trait data, local climate and habitat data, non-primate competitor data, and species phylogenies will be amassed to address questions such as: Can the trait and phylogenetic structures of primate communities be predicted by climate and habitat characteristics? Do communities found in similar environments, but on different continents, converge on the same structures? Does climate change from the Miocene through the Present influence primate community structure? Do the presence and diversity of non-primate mammals that are potential primate competitors (e.g. fruit bats, sloths, civets, genets) impact primate community structure? Are trait and phylogenetic structures of fossil primate communities predicted by climatic characteristics? The research will assess whether or not community-level characteristics (e.g. phylogenetic and trait structure, etc.) are correlated with modern and past climatic variation within and across biogeographic regions and continents.

INTELLECTUAL MERIT: Studies of primate community ecology and assemblage patterns are under-represented within the field of biological anthropology, yet can provide critical insights into primate behavior, ecology, and evolution. The research proposed in this project will address topics that are central to understanding the modern and past distribution and coexistence of primates and other mammals. Using a community level approach is essential for understanding how species interact to impact the evolution of each others behavior, ecology, and morphology. In addition, our novel approaches to understanding how inter-specific competition influences broad-scale primate distributions will produce insights that will complement existing single-site studies of interspecific competition at the behavioral ecology level. Finally, examining the position of fossil hominins in the larger primate and mammal communities will show at what time hominins caused the first anthropogenically altered primate and/or mammal communities. The integrative and comparative nature of our project will have a significant impact on primatology and paleontology, as well as other disciplines in biological anthropology, ecology, and evolutionary biology. In addition, with habitat loss and fragmentation occurring worldwide, research investigating the factors determining community composition has implications for conservation management. Obtaining a better understanding of how primate communities change through time and in response to changing climates will inform models for predicting shifts in primate distributions and community structure due to future climate and habitat change.

BROADER IMPACTS: Postdoctoral, graduate, and undergraduate training are interwoven with this project. We will integrate undergraduate interns with the data collection and analyses in the proposed research. Thus far we have had four women and two men, five of which were from under-represented groups, and we will strive to continue advancing diversity. We will encourage students to develop their own research ideas to present at local, regional, and national meetings. A publically available database of primate communities, individual primate species trait data, and associated high resolution site-level environmental data is a major focus of this project, with the goal of sharing the NSF funded data collection with the scientific community. The general public will be able to access web-based visualization of our research. Displayed in a user-friendly format, visualizations will engage people of all ages to explore primate community and habitat differences within and among continents and through time. We plan to develop web-based educational activities using primate communities, and make them freely available for teachers and students to use in classrooms or their home.
Effective start/end date4/15/163/31/20


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $63,464.00

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