Department of Anthropology
This is arguably the most exciting time in history for the study of human evolution. Barely a week goes by without reports of new and revelatory data from genetics to fossils, and living primate behavior to human biology. Today, experts in genetics, biomechanics, physiology, evolutionary biology, nutrition, psychology, and behavioral ecology are helping to elucidate the origins and evolution of our lineage--a history going back over 6 million years. Increasingly, that evolutionary history is providing valuable insight into our human natures, our experience with disease, and efforts to define what it means to be human.
These advances rely on efforts that exemplify interdisciplinary research. Work in my lab, for example, combines nutrition, primate ecology, analytical chemistry, and evolutionary biology to uncover our deep history with food and put that history into a meaningful framework relevant for consumers today.
One of the most amazing things about the human species is our ability to adapt, and adaptation is also an interdisciplinary process. We now survive and thrive in some of the most extreme environments on the planet, and accomplish feats that are increasingly only bound by our imagination. We have done so via processes of biocultural adaptation. We are a biocultural species, and our evolutionary history is a record of interactions of psychology, behavior, technology, and biology to maintain and improve fitness in an ever-changing environment.
I am increasingly interested in exploring the limits of human performance, and the processes of biocultural adaptation. How do our bodies respond to the stress induced by extreme environments or activities? What are the limits of biological plasticity and acclimatization? Some individuals break down from minimal exposure to stress (e.g. running just a few miles per week), while others thrive under heavy exposure (e.g. running thousands of miles per year). What are the biological and cultural components of this behavior and adaptation? What allows those who thrive (physically and mentally) on extreme levels of activity to avoid breakdown? By closely examining the psychological, behavioral, technological, and biological adaptations to extreme stress among modern populations today, we may better understand our species’ unique capacity for adaptation.