Mirza  cranium and associated virtual endocast (c) K.L. Allen

Mirza cranium and associated virtual endocast (c) K.L. Allen

Research Interests

  • Comparative primate anatomy and functional osteology 
  • Early anthropoid paleontology 
  • Phylogenetic comparative statistics 
  • Three-dimensional geometric morphometrics 
  • Volume and surface-based visualization techniques (microCT/surface scanning) 

Primary Research

My research uses micro-computer tomography (microCT) scans of living and fossil primates to visualize the shape of the endocast (the volume within the braincase) of these animals. This project examines the relationships between brain size, brain shape, and brain proportions in primates and evaluates the evolution of these features in anthropoid (monkey, ape, and human) primates. In particular, I am interested in 1) the degree to which differences in endocast shape may reflect differences in brain proportions, and 2) the covariation of endocast shape and/or brain proportions with the overall organization of the skull. I aim to take a historical and evolutionary approach by using phylogenetic comparative methods and incorporating fossil primate specimens in my analysis, to determine the order of acquisition of these traits and their distribution through time.

Overarching Anthropological Research Questions

  • What are the ecological pressures shaping encephalization (brain size relative to body size) within and among mammalian clades? 
  • What are the spatial and evolutionary constraints acting on the evolution of the cranium? 
  • To what extent are osteology markers predictive of ecological behaviors? (Implications for reconstructing behavior in the fossil record) 

.pdf of 2013 Society for Vertebrate Paleontology poster: Endocast shape evolution in early anthropoid primates

Additional Projects

  • Evaluating the relationship between ecological factors and encephalization in anthropoid evolution (diet quality in platyrrhines: Allen and Kay, 2012)
  • Comparison of upper and lower molar shear measures for diet reconstruction (Allen et al, IN PRESS) 
  • Estimation of brain proportions using virtual endocast “dissection” (mentoring of Duke undergraduate, manuscript in prep.)
  • Analysis of subfossil primate endocasts from Madagascar (data analysis phase) 
  • Analysis of intra- and interspecific variation in dental dimensions and surface topography among baboon populations in hybridization zones (collaboration with Jane Phillips-Conroy)
  • Reconstructing body size and encephalization from external cranial dimensions in primates