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Tooth function, ecology and diet in Primates

Background: Our understanding of early hominin diets is usually based on a limited number of fossil specimens. One way to address the fragmentary nature of the hominin fossil record is to use large comparative samples. Living non-human primates are an important source of comparative information for the reconstruction of the diets of extinct hominins. Primates feed on different food sources and this difference can be reflected in the size and shape of their teeth. However, while the shape of unworn teeth can suggest what a tooth is capable of processing, tooth wear can tell us how a tooth was actually used. However, very little is known about the relationship between occlusal dental wear and primate diets. Project aim/s: The focus of this study will be on the relationship between tooth morphology, dental wear and mastication in primates with different ecological adaptations. This project will be based on a novel approach that uses advanced 3D digital modeling and virtual simulations of primate teeth and it will help to better understand the relationship between jaw movements, wear and diet. The methods employed in this project have been successfully used to reconstruct the diet of past human populations including hunter-gatherer groups, such as Inuit and Australian Aborigines, and Eurasian fossil humans, such as the Neanderthals. The results of this study could help to better understand the ecology of critically endangered species, such as chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas. Moreover, the results of this project may be later used as model for understanding ecological and evolutionary adaptations of our closest African ancestors. Research environment and techniques to be utilised: The Palaeodiet Research Lab is a highly multidisciplinary and dynamic team that investigates important biological questions related to humans in an evolutionary context. The lab is led by A/Prof Luca Fiorenza, who has been recognised among Australia top’s researchers by the Australian’s Research 2020 Magazine as Leader in the field of Anthropology. The research produced in our Lab has been published in the most prestigious scientific journals in the world, including Nature, and Nature Ecology & Evolution. Our research has always generated high public interest, and it has been covered in the most important national and international media, such as National Geographic, Scientific American, BBC, CNN and The Times. The Palaeodiet Research Lab will provide world-class trainings for staff and students on how to study human anatomical variability using new digital approaches. The project will be based on advanced digital techniques, ranging from 3D medical imaging to engineering tools. Integration of dental anatomy with engineering tools will be used to create new and exciting methods for functional analyses of the musculoskeletal system; an approach that may eventually inform on applied settings like orthodontics, where the relationship between morphology and dental occlusion is still not well understood. You will have access to a state-of-the-art 3D imaging laboratory, equipped with the most advanced technologies, ranging from ultra-high precision 3D desktop scanner, innovative 3D printers, and with the best 3D imaging and engineering software on the market. Skills During the life of this PhD project you will receive trainings in 3D computer methods, dental anatomy, biomechanics, human osteology, data collection and management, functional morphology, orthodontics, engineering, and statistical analyses. Moreover, due to the interdisciplinary nature of this project, the PhD will also be an opportunity to develop essential transferable skills in communication, presentation, critical thinking, team-based learning, problem solving, decision-making, and time-planning. Skills that apply to jobs in and out of academia.
Essential criteria: 
Minimum entry requirements can be found here:
Dental anatomy, ecology, functional morphology, primates, comparative anatomy, anthropology, evolutionary biology, biomechanics
Biomedicine Discovery Institute (School of Biomedical Sciences)
Available options 
Time commitment 
Top-up scholarship funding available 
Physical location 
Biomedicine Discovery Institute
Ottmar Kullmer

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