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Institute for Studies in Landscape and Human Evolution

Institute for Studies in Landscape & Human Evolution

What drove the evolution of our species? Why did some species in the human family tree (hominins) become extinct while others did not? What role did climate change and landscape process play in guiding this evolution?

These are fundamental questions about our own origins and what drove our evolution.  Our research is focused on tackling these questions from a landscape based perspective, integrating palaeoanthropology, ecology, remote sensing of modern analogues and both earth and computer science.  We are collaborating with computer animators to bring our science alive in the imaginations of both scientific and non-scientific audiences.

Key research themes

Our research looks at reconstructing both the landscape signals embedded in hominin habitat records, and reconstructing hominin habitats and land use from the Pliocene Epoch through to the present day.  We examine the interplay between climate and dynamic landscape processes, and their role in guiding human evolution.

We create numerical models to explore the effects of dynamic landscapes and climate change on observed patterns of human evolution to help understand the fundamental biological processes involved. By finding out more about how landscape has influenced human evolution, we can better understand how and why certain species became extinct, while others survived.

Tools and approaches

The research themes demand an interdisciplinary approach, integrating a number of different strands led by scientists at BU and collaborating with institutions across the world.

  • Faunal palaeobiogeography of hominins and associated animal communities across Africa
  • Remote sensing of contemporary landscapes. The current landscape provides a way of understanding the past through the concept of ergodic reasoning – substituting time for space – since the African rift valley is a time transgressive feature and shows multiple stages of temporal evolution along its length
  • Reconstructing palaeo-landscapes and specifically ancient elevation models for key parts of the African rift through a combination of tectonic modelling and dating of key fault movements
  • Primate landscape use, as a proxy for hominin landscape use
  • Evolutionary modelling based on realistic landscapes (ecology and topography) to understand the evolutionary consequences of different landscape types
  • Visualisation through animation as a means to engage the public about the role of climate and landscape on evolution.

We offer both doctoral training opportunities in the above themes and both invite welcome research collaboration with anyone interested in similar themes.

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