New paper out in PNAS: Mother’s Milk

Our new paper on the evolution of the maternal:infant relationship came out last week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Lead author, Dr. Leslea Hlusko, also wrote a blog post on the article, featured on The Conversation. I am really excited to be a part of this project that brings together dental anthropology, genomics, cellular biology, and paleoecology to pose a hypothesis about natural selection on a population of people living at high latitudes in the Beringian Refugium during the Last Glacial Maximum.

The article is open access, so anyone can read the article HERE.

Other press on our recent work:

Science Magazine: Gene linked to breastfeeding may have boosted survival of earliest Americans

UC Berkeley: Did last ice age affect breast feeding in Native Americans?

Newsweek: Genetic Mutation Behind Shoveled Teeth May Have Been Key to Ancestral Survival

We won Best Poster in Ecology and Evolution!

I am so proud of my undergraduates! They recently won Best Poster in Ecology and Evolution at the West Coast Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Conference, hosted by St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga, CA. They gave an exceptional presentation on dental variation in megabats (Pteropodidae). I can’t wait to see how this project develops! Congratulations again Maddie, Rena, and Shruti!

Rena (left) and Maddie (right) at the 2018 WCBSURC

Madeleine Zuercher (first author), undergraduate at UC Berkeley, and Tesla Monson.

AAPA meetings (2018)

While I am not able to attend the AAPA meetings in Austin this year, I am still pleased to be there in scientific spirit as a co-author on an excellent poster during the Saturday afternoon session: Primate Evolution and Anatomy. Please stop by and check out our work on dental variation in New World monkeys! 

Spring Semester

Here we are in the Spring semester! I had an amazing time teaching IB35AC, Human Biological Variation, last semester. Being at the head of a 300 person class was an incredible experience that gave me great insight into the intricacies of teaching such a large course. I am really grateful for all of the support I received from Dr. Hlusko and my five GSIs.

This Spring has been packed with activities. Just last night, I gave an invited DeCal lecture on “Medical Secrets” for a course at the intersection of journalism and public health. And I have a great lecture planned for the Marin Science Seminar next week. Other than that, it’s been all working on manuscripts, all the time. Big announcement coming soon on my plans for next year!Screen Shot 2018-02-21 at 9.01.48 AM

Human Biological Variation (IB35AC)

welcomeslideAfter teaching a smaller version of the course this summer, I am very excited to be head instructor of IB35AC, a 300 student class on human biological variation, this fall. IB35AC is a lower-level class that fulfills the American Cultures component of the undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley, a breadth requirement unique to UC Berkeley that asks all students to explore the ethnic and racial variation within the United States from a comparative perspective. This course also addresses human biological variation, including phenotypes like skin pigmentation, intelligence, sex, and gender, from biomedical, anthropological, and evolutionary perspectives. A key goal of this class is to help students understand the role of both biological and cultural components of human variation in the evolution of our species.

I’m finished!

I am happy to announce that I have finished my PhD program at UC Berkeley. Yippeeee!!! It’s been an amazing 5 years in the Integrative Biology program, but I am ready to enjoy life as a doctor. Don’t worry – I’m not disappearing. I will be lecturing here at Cal this summer as head instructor of IB 35ac – Human Biological Variation. Then, it’s on to a postdoc!IMG_4937

Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award

I am happy to announce that I have received the Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award from University of California, Berkeley for my work in IB 131, Anatomy Lab, and IB 140, Human Reproduction. It is an honor to be recognized amidst the numerous outstanding graduate student instructors on campus. I will be attending the award ceremony on May 2nd at I-House; I will be sure and post a picture from the event!

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New paper out in Palaeontologia Electronica

I am happy to announce that our paper on fossil primate cranial variation is out in the open-access journal Palaeontologia Electronica. The article, titled “Patterns of craniofacial variation and taxonomic diversity in the South African Cercopithecidae fossil record”, uses a sample of 99 fossil primate crania from South Africa, as well as more than 80 extant primates, to investigate the morphological and taxonomic diversity of South African fossil monkeys. The abstract is presented below, and the full pdf is available online.


The rich paleontological record of South Africa is central in our understanding of Plio-Pleistocene mammalian evolution due in large part to the number of crania recovered. Because of the difficulty of chronometric control in many of the cave systems from which these fossils derive, extinct Old World Monkeys (OWMs) are often employed as biochronological markers, making the taxonomic identification of these primate remains particularly relevant to pursuing broader evolutionary questions relating to human evolution and faunal diversity shifts. The taxonomic relationships for the OWM fossils are reconstructed through phylogenetic systematics that rely heavily on craniodental traits. These analytical methods assume that these characters are developmentally, functionally, and genetically independent. This assumption is increasingly being questioned by analyses of extant phenotypic datasets and genetics. We statistically explored cranial variation in South African fossil papionins (n = 99) to determine whether or not extinct taxa reflect the same phenotypic covariance structure as has been reported for extant OWMs. Our results show that many of the cranial measurements are statistically significantly correlated and fail to distinguish between species or even genera of fossil papionins despite distinguishing extant species. Overall, our results suggest that these extinct OWM taxa cannot be discriminated using craniofacial measurements alone, or that the taxonomic designations, as they currently stand, are confounded.

Monson, Tesla A., Brasil, Marianne F., Stratford, Dominic J., and Hlusko, Leslea J. 2017. Patterns of craniofacial variation and taxonomic diversity in the South African Cercopithecidae fossil record. Palaeontologia Electronica 20.1.7A: 1-20

Excited to be featured in the new Cal Koret Visitor Center!

I am very excited and honored to be featured in the new UC Berkeley Koret Visitor Center up at Memorial Stadium! The exhibit features my work, and my outreach with The Graduates radio show on KALX. If you are in Berkeley, head up campus to see the exhibit featuring me, and several other graduate students, including two other scientists from the Department of Integrative Biology. KoretVisitorCenter KoretSelfie