The QMEE CDT Project proposal database

Welcome to the QMEE CDT Project proposal database. This is a live list of projects proposals put forward by PIs across the CDT partner institutions

PIs/Supervisors will continue to add projects to this list over the next few months, so do keep checking back! You can search the projects using the box below: simply enter some text and press Search to do a text search across all the database fields. If you want to search more finely, the search tool also allows you to search on particular details of the project descriptions: you will see these finer search options appear if you click on the search box.

Click on the view button next to a project to get the full proposal description. If you want to download project details, either for all projects, or for a subset you have searched for, then click on the 'Download details' button.

To find a particular PI's email or look up other PI details, use the menu at the top of this page (PIs tab).

Reconstructing the Human Morphological Blueprint
Our understanding of the evolutionary routes that led to our own species, Homo sapiens, is still largely composed of scientific conjecture despite decades of intense research. There is little consensus regarding the relationships between modern humans and other extinct hominins (species that emerged since the common ancestor of modern humans and chimpanzees), as well as their behaviours, morphology, and the direction and causes of their historical geographical movement. No robust statistically justifiable and well-resolved phylogenetic tree of the hominins yet exists, and as a consequence there is still little agreement as to whether important fossil species such as H. erectus are true ancestors of H. sapiens, or if they simply represent side branches of evolution. Such issues confound our ability to test evolutionary hypotheses about how hominin diversity came to be. Equally, many hypotheses previously proposed to explain uniquely hominin innovations have never been tested in a phylogenetic context. Almost everything we understand about the tempo and mode of hominin morphological evolution has been gleaned from placing traits associated with particular features (e.g. bipedalism or tool use) onto a timeline of species or specimens in which they first appear, thereby confusing ‘older’ with ‘ancestral’. Using modern phylogenetic comparative methods combined with a statistically justified sample of phylogenetic trees (that can be used to account for the uncertainty in species relationships) and a suite of anatomical features indicative of important evolutionary transitions, we can generate important new insights about how morphological innovations arose and interacted through time. Indicators of important transitions in hominin evolution are available for at least four facets: bipedalism and locomotion; brains; diet and feeding; and grasping, holding or throwing. Using a suite of morphologies and a novel phylogenetic statistical framework we can also test the hypothesis that modern humans have in some way undergone more evolutionary transitions and that such transitions in some way represent catalysts for even more change than expected compared to other hominins – i.e. innovation has been the crucible for more innovation along the human lineage. The role of phylogeny in these tests is critical: if the human lineage has differentially undergone more change than its sister branch at that time, we expect to see high rates of innovation and change accumulating along the lineage which eventually leads to H. sapiens. From the work proposed in this project we would be able to address the following questions: Do the anatomical features we think of as unique to H. sapiens (or Homo) evolve as a so called ‘integrated package’ i.e. synchronously in one or few phylogenetic lineages or do they accumulate more gradually through time, or perhaps in a mosaic fashion? What is the temporal and phylogenetic position of episodes of adaptive phenotypic evolution in the hominin phylogeny? At what point in the phylogeny do significant behavioural transitions evolve? Is innovation the crucible of more innovation in hominins – and to what extent can this explain the unique morphology we see in ourselves today?
Chris Venditti
Joseph Tobias
Andrew Meade (University of Reading); Mark Pagel (University of Reading); Chris Stringer (Natural History Museum, London)
Quantitative data analysis, Evolutionary observations / data collection
Chris Venditti
Almost all aspects of the proposed project are quantitative. It will involve the use and development of phylogenetic inference methods, models of morphological evolution, and phylogenetic comparative methods. A variety of multivariate methods (e.g. Principal components analysis), regression and generalized linear mixed models will also be used.
The integrative nature of bringing robust phylogenetic framework to anthropological data will provide a novel window into past processes of human evolution. Many hypotheses exist regarding the ancestor-descendent relationships among hominin species and we will develop novel methods to test these.
This project is inherently evolutionary, we will test a number assumptions that are deeply ingrained in evolutionary theory: we will test if speciation is linked to morphological divergence in the human lineage; we will determine if evolution is gradual or episodic and if that is different in different morphologies; and we will examine the extent to which humans are true evolutionary outliers.
A better understanding of the morphological evolution – especially skeletal morphology in hominins – can help explain, and thus develop effective treatment for, many human maladies such as Femoroacetabular impingement, intervertebral disc herniation and plantar fasciitis to name just a few.
The project will provide a unique and more nuanced understanding of human evolution than has previously been possible. Apart from the inherent interest associated with that, the methodological legacy has the potential to change the way researchers study other historical evolutionary processes – particularly (but not exclusively) in fossil groups.
The work outlined in this proposal transcends the traditional academic boundaries of biological science and anthropology. The outputs will be of significant interest to researchers from a wide range of disciplines from ecology, palaeontology, evolutionary biology, and physiology all the way through to computer science and statistics.
Palaeobiology, Systematics and taxonomy, Ecological/Evolutionary tools, technology & methods
The student will received extensive training in statistical and mathematical modelling (including Bayesian phylogenetics and comparative methods), high performance computing, and management and manipulation of large datasets.
University of Reading
No
2018-10-11 13:35:08