Faculty Spotlight: Jason Kamilar

Friday, March 17, 2017 

Comparative Primatology Lab Director, Jason Kamilar has some new projects underway.

 Several projects are currently underway in the Comparative Primatology Lab directed by Assistant Professor Jason Kamilar. Two of these projects are supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the evolution of primate hair (BCS #1606360) and the ecology and evolution of primate communities (BCS #1551799).

 Humans are unusual primates in many ways, especially with regard to hair patterning. Human body hair is very short and less dense than other primates. In addition, many human populations exhibit scalp hair that has very long growth cycles. Other primate species exhibit interesting variation in their hair characteristics as well, though the reasons for this variation is poorly known. This project will test several hypotheses to explain variation in hair length, width, and density across many primate species. For instance, do primates living in cold habitats have denser, thicker, and longer hair than species living in warm environments? Does the presence of ecto-parasites affect hair characteristics? Why do males and females of the same species sometimes show different hair traits? The results from this study will shed light on hair pattern variation across primates and help us to better understand the unique human condition. Students have been actively participating in this project by analyzing of thousands of digital photographs of primate museum skins.

The second project focuses on primate communities. Most primates live in tropical forests, areas of substantial plant and animal biodiversity. Therefore, primates do not live alone, and their interactions with other organisms (including other primate species), can have important effects on their behavior and ecology. In particular, primate communities (all the primate species that interact with each other in a particular study site or area) are an important yet understudied research focus. Data are now available for several hundred primate communities from around the world and this information is being used by the Lab to examine broad patterns of ecological diversity and to test if these patterns are similar or different across continents. In addition, an interesting component of the project focuses on how primate communities have changed through time and in response to climatic fluctuations. Examining how climate change has impacted primate communities in the past can provide critical information about how primate diversity will be altered due to future climate change. Undergraduate students are working on the project by assisting in creating ecological databases and graduate students will help with quantitative analyses. 

 The Lab employs various quantitative approaches to answering questions about primate diversity, including GIS and ecological modeling, genetics, multivariate statistics, and phylogenetic comparative methods. This provides students with numerous opportunities to learn skills that they can utilize in the future, either in their careers, graduate school, or both.

Jason Kamilar is Assistant Professor of Biological Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and is interested in the behavior, ecology, and evolution of primates. He can be reached by email jkamilar@umass.edu, or during his office hours (by appointment) in 102 Machmer.


 (Measuring the hair width from a silvery marmoset's cheek.)




  (Measuring the hair length of a brown lemur's tail.)