Vivek Venkataraman (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Ph.D student) and Jeff Kerby (Visiting Arctic Fellow at Dartmouth College) received a National Geographic Society - Waitt Grant for $15,000 for a project entitled "The living library of primate faces: developing 3-dimensional facial mapping to link behavioral ecology and morphometrics in a wild gelada monkey population."
The size and shape of morphological traits are fundamental aspects of animals that have been shaped by natural and sexual selection. Consequently, the measurements of physical attributes in wild animals is essential for testing evolutionary hypotheses. Yet in most taxa this task is difficult due to logistical challenges and the ethical problems associated with live capture. Remote measurement of individual morphological traits via photogrammetry has become popular in recent years, although current implementations of this technique remain relatively crude and are largely confined to two dimensions.
The study involves developing a portable multi-camera array to characterize the morphological traits of wild primates in three dimensions. Venkataraman and Kerby will use this technique to carry out both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies of primate facial variability and growth in known individuals, and to complement these measurements with behavioral observations. The study will be conducted with gelada monkeys, grass-eating primates that live in the Ethiopian highlands. The study has promise to advance evolutionary hypothesis testing at the intersection of morphology and behavior in a long-lived mammal.