Elizabeth R. Dumont
Vice Provost for Academic Affairs;
Director, Interdisciplinary Grad. Programs, CNS;
Professor of Biology
BA, Indiana University (Bloomington), 1985
MA, SUNY at Stony Brook, 1989
PhD, SUNY at Stony Brook, 1993
Although mammals are only a small fraction of living vertebrates, they have a significant impact on terrestrial and aquatic communities throughout the world. Despite their relatively limited numbers, mammals are anatomically and behaviorally diverse. One need only imagine a mouse next to a whale to realize that the world's 4,650 species of mammals come in a tremendous variety of sizes and shapes. This variation reflects the adaptations of mammals to a wide array of habitats that offer different rewards and challenges to the species that reside in them. Food is essential to survival and one of the most fundamental interactions between animals and their environment is that of feeding. The jaws and teeth of mammals are remarkably diverse and reflect the variety of dietary specializations within the group.
The over-riding goal of my research is to understand the evolution of feeding strategies in mammals. This requires integration of data from a number of sources. One area of my research is analyzing the variation in anatomy associated with feeding. In my lab we study skull and tooth shape from the perspective of their mechanical functions using techniques ranging from confocal and scanning electron microscopy through multivariate statistics and mathematical analyses of bone cross-sections. While laboratory analysis tells us a lot about bone/tooth function, it is also important to understand how animals use their anatomy under natural conditions. To that end, I also maintain an active field-based research program focused on documenting variation in feeding behavior within and among closely related species. By coupling lab-based anatomical studies with field-based behavioral studies, we can begin to understand the ecological context in which diversity of feeding strategies evolved. With anatomical and behavioral data in hand, I also apply modern phylogenetic techniques to ask fundamental questions about the strength of associations between anatomy and behavior in the evolution of mammalian feeding.