David Strait’s $940k grant to study Australopithecine diet evolution

Recently, Nate Dominy was granted a very generous fellowship to continue his studies on human evolution and diet. David Strait, of the University at Albany, also has been granted a very generous lump of cash to study this same topic.David Strait holds the skull of an Australopithecus boisei

Dominy’s scope differs from Strait’s in that Dominy takes a molecular approach. Strait will investigate how australopithecine skull shapes evolved to deal with eating different foods. The National Science Foundation has given Strait a curiously large amount of money for a physical anthropology study… about $940,000!

Here’s an excerpt of his pitch,

The australopithecines lived in Africa about 7 million to 1.5 million years ago, Strait said. The climate changed over that time, he said, becoming drier.

The australopithecines may have been forced to fall back on eating resistant or hard foods like nuts and seeds that may have been crucial to their survival.

This was what I attempted to tackle in my undergraduate thesis, I didn’t have access to many fossils nor casts, but in my studies I did observe a waxing and weening in dentition of the australopithecines. At one point in australopithecine evolution their jaws (Australopithecus boisei) were about twice the size of ours, but their brains were a about a third of ours. Something was clearly going on as far as selection and diet. Hopefully, Strait can bring some more clear answers with all this science money!

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