Evolutionary ecology, the study of patterns and processes at the interface of evolutionary biology and ecology, is an exciting and rapidly growing research area. However, most studies ignore one important factor: extinction. I aim to develop methods for adding fossil species into phylogenies and evolutionary ecology analyses, using primates as a study group because the order has a lot of interesting extinct diversity. The methods developed will be applicable to any species, not just primates, and to a huge range of interesting evolutionary questions.
The overall objectives are to build the first dated-phylogeny of primates to include extinct and extant taxa and to then use this phylogeny to test evolutionary ecology questions in primates. I will investigate three main questions: (i) Can historical primate extinctions be explained by competition with other species of primate? (ii) Does adding extinct giant lemurs into analyses of primate body size evolution alter our conclusions about rates of evolution in primates, particularly in the Strepsirrhini (lemurs and relatives)? (iii) If all of the presently endangered primates become extinct, what will the consequences be for the morphological and functional diversity of primates? How will this affect the functioning of the ecosystems they inhabit? The results of these analyses will have implications for evolutionary ecology methods, evolutionary theory, and conservation planning.
This grant will allow me to become firmly established as a leader in my field, attract high quality students and postdoctoral researchers to my research group, develop new teaching materials, maintain and establish international collaborations, and contribute to European scientific excellence. All of these factors will be instrumental in achieving my goal of securing a permanent position in Europe at the end of my current five year contract.
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