Project Details


Insects are a critical component of many primate diets, and are thought to have played an important role in the evolution of the primate family. The physiological adaptations that underpin insectivory are not well understood, and this dissertation research project will study internal dietary adaptations, such as digestive enzymes, that primates use to digest this important food resource. The research findings will provide insight into the evolution of dietary ecologies, niche separation, and specialization of primate species. The project will support academic training and mentoring of female and underrepresented minority students at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The undergraduate student will have the opportunity to develop and conduct their own research project and present their findings at the Rutgers Undergraduate Research Symposium. An online educational module explaining dietary adaptations to elementary school students will be developed and distributed at no cost. This teaching resource will incorporate results of this study, as well as information about anthropological fieldwork, and is intended to foster an interest in science and human evolution in K-12 students.Insect consumption is widespread across human and non-human primates, and is thought to have been a driving force in primate evolution, selecting for the primate visual system and other morphological features. Insects, especially termites, may have been a key resource for early hominins. This project focuses on the digestive enzymes acidic mammalian chitinase and pepsin A as potential adaptations for insectivory in New World primates, which exhibit a high degree of insectivory and a diverse array of dietary ecologies. Using DNA samples, the investigator will conduct a broad, comparative survey of platyrrhine species to address the following questions: (1) Do all platyrrhines share a functional gene sequence for a chitinolytic enzyme, regardless of diet? (2) What are the patterns of convergence in digestive enzyme genes of insectivorous and non-insectivorous platyrrhines compared to insectivorous and sanguivorous bats? (3) Does the chitinase gene (CHIA) occur in greater copy numbers in more insectivorous species? And (4) does the proteolytic digestive enzyme pepsin A (PGA) have higher gene copy numbers in platyrrhine species with high-protein diets? Having an understanding of the digestive enzymes and relevant genetic variation found in New World monkeys will allow comparisons with other extant primate groups, such as Old World monkeys, apes, and humans, as well as other insectivorous mammals.
Effective start/end date3/15/172/28/19


  • National Science Foundation (National Science Foundation (NSF))


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.