Bsc Natural Sciences (University of Milan)
MSc Palaeobiology and History of Life (University of Milan)
MPhil Biological Anthropological Sciences (University of Cambridge)
PhD Biological Anthropology (University of Kent)
My main research interest concerns the origin of modern human variation: how it relates to past population history - from the origin of our species to more recent migrations of people - and to selective pressures due to the colonisation of different environments. I apply a population genetic approach to the study of skeletal morphology, looking at the shape of the cranium and the postcranium in different human populations to gain a better understanding of the processes that generated modern geographic variability.
My recent research has mostly focused on two areas of the human skeleton, the cranium and the pelvis (hips). Both of these anatomical regions underwent substantial evolutionary changes in the hominin lineage, and are related to some key human adaptations such as increased encephalisation and bipedalism. At the same time, both regions appear to vary remarkably between modern human populations. One explanation for this geographical variation is climatic adaptation, and several authors have suggested a link between the size and shape of the skull and pelvis and regional temperature.
My work, on the other hand, has revealed that the geographic pattern in human cranial and pelvic variation can be largely explained by the history of dispersal of our species, whereby morphological differences have accumulated in the populations that colonised new areas of the world. Climatic adaptation appears to have played a more limited role in directly shaping modern human skeletal diversity. However, a recent collaborative project has showed that climate itself was a major factor in determining the mode and tempo of human geographic dispersal, and therefore human demographic history (Eriksson et al. 2012).
On going projects are exploring in more details the effect of neutral and selective processes on other areas of the skeleton, including hands and feet. At the same time, I am expanding my research on the pelvis by focusing on the variation of the female birth canal. I am also involved in a large ERC project run by Dr Jay Stock at the University of Cambridge (http://www.adaptproject.eu/), which will look at the global pattern of hunter-gatherer skeletal variation in a more integrated way, evaluating the relative importance of neutral genetic differences and climatic variation in shaping the skeleton.
Human ecology, human diversity, human evolution, statistics