Biological Anthropology

The graduate program in biological anthropology at CU Boulder offers training in several areas, including primatology, human biology, and paleoanthropology. We share an interest in human ecology, the broad integrative area of anthropology that focuses on the interactions of culture, biology and the environment. We also share an interest in the processes of globalization, which are rapidly changing many aspects of the modern world. As biological anthropologists, we are well positioned to analyze the impact of globalization on the interaction between biology and behavior, and to analyze human and primate adaptations to changing environments and declining biodiversity. Our faculty research interests include:

  • anthropogenic and climatic effects on primate behavior, biology and ecology
  • general ecology
  • conservation biology
  • primate evolution
  • early hominin paleoecology
  • nutritional ecology and feeding biology of human and non-human primates
  • community ecology and plant-animal interactions
  • evolutionary ecology
  • biogeochemical techniques for studying the diets and habitats of modern and fossil fauna
  • life history
  • endocrinology
  • growth and development
  • maternal and infant health

We offer training and research opportunities in several laboratories and at several field sites. These include:

The Lemur Biology Project: Bezà Mahafaly Special Reserve, Madagascar (PI: Sauther). Research focuses on understanding how environmental change affects lemur biology, behavior and ecology. A central component of this project is the longitudinal monitoring of an intact lemur community, the forest within which it resides, and the impacts that recent human actions have had on these endangered animals.

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Kibale National Park (KNP): KNP is located in western Uganda, in the foothills of the Ruwenzori Mountains and is home to the world’s highest abundance of primates and, with 12 sympatric species, one of the most diverse.  Since 1991, Lambert and her team have investigated the ecology and biology of redtail monkeys, blue monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabeys, baboons, red colobus monkeys, black-and-white colobus monkeys and chimpanzees.  The focus of this research has been on feeding biology and nutritional ecology, seed dispersal, and community ecology.  KNP is a superb location for student training, with housing and laboratory facilities and numerous opportunities for interaction with scientists from around the world. 

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Laboratory for Endocrinology and Growth Studies (PI: Robin Bernstein): We use enzyme immunoassay methods to measure biomarkers in blood, saliva, hair, breast milk, stool, and urine. We also use mid-infrared spectroscopy to measure macronutrients in human breast milk.  (Cristol Chemistry and Biochemistry, Room 251)

  • Keneba, The Gambia: Work at this field site is carried out in collaboration with the UK Medical Research Council (MRC), The Gambia Unit and International Nutrition Group. Here, clinical and research facilities are integrated into a rural setting. Research carried out at this site by Bernstein and colleagues includes: 1) investigating the relationship between protective factors in breast milk and incidence of infant intestinal inflammation; 2) understanding the interactions between multiple physiological systems that impact infant growth in a seasonal context; and 3) the ultrafine monitoring of infant growth to interrogate the aetiology of growth stunting.

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Nutritional and Isotopic Ecology Lab (NIEL; PI: Sponheimer; Co-PI: Lambert)
We perform nutritional, mechanical, and isotopic analyses on a broad suite of plant and animal tissues to address questions about the ecology of modern and fossil taxa. (Cristol Chemistry and Biochemistry, Room 210). The lab has active projects in South Africa, Kenya, and the USA.

  • The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, South Africa: We have several projects in this area on the ecology of living and fossil mammals, both large and small. This research includes fieldwork, typically twice per year, as well as museum work throughout South Africa. These projects are typically augmented with data from our other projects in Kenya, Ethiopia, and elsewhere.

Laboratory for Human Biology (PI: Dufour). This is for training in human energetics, specifically for measuring human energy expenditure under field conditions. We also have access to the CTRC (Clinical Translational Research Center), a Boulder campus resource for human clinical research.

  • Cali, Colombia. This is an urban site we have been using since 1988. Current research is focused on understanding the effects of globalization on the nutrition transition among low income women.

Primate Conservation and Ecology Laboratory (PI: Covert).  This is for training on the interface between primate skeletal biology and ecology.

  • Ta Kou Nature Reserve in southeastern Vietnam is home to five primate species and is a good place to investigate the ecology of black shanked doucs and Annamese silvered langurs.  The Kien Luong Karst area of southwestern Vietnam is home to Indochinese silvered langurs and long-tailed macaques and is an area that is being rapidly transformed due to mining for building materials. Covert and colleagues have ongoing research here that includes behavioral ecology of the silvered langurs and long-term conservation planning.  The Khau Ca forest area is in the northern most area of Vietnam and is home to the largest remaining population of Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys.  Covert and colleagues have ongoing research here that includes behavioral ecology, human-nonhuman primate resource utilization overlap, and genetic variation of the critically endangered Tonkin snub-nosed monkey.

Faculty Profiles

Bert Covert
Professor Covert focuses on the behavioral ecology and conservation of endangered Vietnamese primates of Southeast Asia.
Darna Dufour
Biological and behavioral responses of human populations to nutritional problems with special emphasis on responses to food shortages and the presence of toxins in foods.
Joanna Lambert
My theoretical interests are in evolutionary and community ecology, with a taxonomic focus on the Order Primates. I have worked in a number of sites in the Paleo- and Neotropics. However, my primary field site is Kibale National Park, Uganda.
Matt Sponheimer
Matt Sponheimer does research on the ecology of early hominins and living and fossil mammals, both large and small, from the African continent.
Michelle Sauther
Professor Sauther’s major focus of research is to better understand how both immediate and long term environmental factors interact with inter-individual variation to affect primate behavior and biology.
Robin Bernstein
Robin Bernstein’s research combines field and laboratory methods to investigate human growth and development, and how nutrition, disease, and environmental factors shape growth patterns in infants and children.
Steven Leigh
Leigh's research focuses on human and primate evolution and integrates many different kinds of data across the discipline of anthropology, including information from genetics, anatomy, archaeology and socio-cultural anthropology.