ISG postdoc Dr. Sharlene Santana, in collaboration with ISG Associate Director Dr. Jessica Lynch Alfaro and ISG Associate Dr. Michael Alfaro, has published a new paper entitled “Adaptive evolution of facial colour patterns in Neotropical primates“.

The rich diversity of primate faces has interested naturalists for over a century. Researchers have long proposed that social behaviours have shaped the evolution of primate facial diversity. However, the primate face constitutes a unique structure where the diverse and potentially competing functions of communication, ecology and physiology intersect, and the major determinants of facial diversity remain poorly understood. Here, we provide the first evidence for an adaptive role of facial colour patterns and pigmentation within Neotropical primates. Consistent with the hypothesis that facial patterns function in communication and species recognition, we find that species living in smaller groups and in sympatry with a higher number of congener species have evolved more complex patterns of facial colour. The evolution of facial pigmentation and hair length is linked to ecological factors, and ecogeographical rules related to UV radiation and thermoregulation are met by some facial regions. Our results demonstrate the interaction of behavioural and ecological factors in shaping one of the most outstanding facial diversities of any mammalian lineage.

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Sharlene Santana will be giving a talk on the research related to this paper on Monday, March 12, 2012 at noon in 352 Haines Hall as part of the Behavior, Evolution and Culture (BEC) Series at UCLA.