Ruggles-Gates Award – Jason Nadell

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Award Holder: Jason Nadell
University: Durham University
Title of Research: Functional adaptation with reference to mobility pattern and ontogeny; a cross-sectional study across the upper and lower limbs of primates.

I am pleased to report that my research and data collection trip to the Anthropological Institute and Museum at the University of Zurich, Zurich, CH, was a great success, thanks in part to the Ruggles-Gates Fund for Biological Anthropology. Though the trip was originally expected to take place during the autumn of 2014, there were several correspondence issues with the Anthropological Institute and Museum. However, the Ruggles-Gates Fund granted me the financial support I needed to rearrange my plans and undertake the trip in April.

My primary research objectives were to understand how the skeletal elements of the fore- and hindlimbs of primates change over the course of ontogeny and in response to the physical loading environment. I asked two research questions, the first of which is the broader of the two: 1). ‘How do cross-sectional properties of long bones change during development, across primate taxa?’, while my second question more specifically asks 2). Which aspects (i.e., midshaft vs. proximal/distal segments) of long bones are more variable in their structure?

With the aid of a NextEngine laser scanner, I am able to generate three-dimensional models of these long bones which are then cross-sectioned along the diaphyses, making it possible to study geometric variation across taxa and over the course of development. During the two weeks spent in the laboratory (April 13 – April 24, 2015), I managed to scan a total of 161 skeletal specimens from the Pan (chimpanzee), Gorilla, Macaca (macaque) and primarily, Pongo (orangutan) and Hylobates (gibbon and siamang) genera. Standard metric data were also recorded in each long bone. The three-dimensional data from the specimens I studied are composed of male and female individuals across three stages of development including infancy, juvenility and adulthood. At the present time, 3D models of the skeletal specimens are being polished and prepared for cross-sectioning and data analysis in the bioinformatics laboratory at the Durham University science site. Upon completion of analysis, I anticipate some exciting preliminary results that will grant further insight into human and non-human primate development and locomotor adaptation across the appendicular skeleton. These results will be presented at several upcoming conferences including the European Society of Human Evolution in London, the British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology in Sheffield and the annual conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. Ultimately, this study will improve our understanding of the correspondence between genetics and skeletal plasticity over the course of ontogeny, and more specifically, will determine whether bone responds to mechanical stimulation differently across elements, mobility patterns, phylogeny, and stages of development. The data collected during this research trip will later be used to compare variation in growth trajectory as well as skeletal plasticity and constraint in extant non-human primates, modern human populations and extinct hominins and primates.

I am extremely grateful to the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland for their confidence in my Ph.D research. Thanks to their financial support, I can look forward to building on my current dataset in the coming months as make the ideas behind this project a reality.