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Georgia College graduate student, alumnus published research on early humans

Georgia college biology graduate student Kayla Allen was a co-author on research just published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. She worked with alumnus and Assistant Professor of Biology at University of North Georgia (UNG) Dr. David Patterson.

The paper, titled “Comparative isotopic evidence from East Turkana supports a dietary shift within the genus Homo” was published earlier this week, and can be viewed here.

“I got involved in the project while working as a supplemental instructor (SI) at UNG,” said Allen “I was working in Dr. Patterson's BIOL 1107 and BIOL 1108 classes when I heard him talking about his research in Kenya. We talked about it, and decided I would be a good fit for attending the field school during the summer of 2017 where I helped Dr. Patterson collect data for this paper.”

The research examines the isotopic signatures in fossils found in the Turkana Basin of Kenya to determine what their diet was like 2.0 million years ago.

“Using that information, along with other data collected in the area (like soil carbonates), we determine what the landscape looked like during this time period. The paper focuses on Homo species and if their diets changed over time and how that influenced their evolution,” said Allen.

“Our data indicate that our genus underwent a dietary transition during this period that is also contemporaneous with major changes in stone tool technology, brain size and body shape, signaling a major evolutionary transition in our ancestors during this period,” said Patterson.

This is the first comprehensive analysis of the ecological context of the diet of Homo, our most closely related human ancestors, in eastern Africa.

“I started working in the Turkana Basin of northern Kenya in 2011 shortly after graduating from Georgia College and beginning graduate school at George Washington University,” said Patterson. “This work is significant because it contributes to an ongoing conversation focused on how and when human diet changed during the period surrounding the first evidence of Homo erectus in the fossil record.”

Several of the other coauthors are graduate students who’ve worked with Patterson over the years: Maryse Biernat (Arizona State), Sarah Morris (Texas Tech) and Kaedan O’Brian (University of Utah). 

For Allen, her former professor and this research actually helped lead her to Georgia College.

“Dr. Patterson earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at Georgia College. He encouraged me to apply, and during my research of the college and the biology program, I found a professor (Dr. Katie Stumpf) who fit with the next step I wanted to take within the realm of biology. I am now studying reproductive fitness of grassland birds to encourage conservation for particular species that rely on grassland habitat to survive.” 

Allen will graduate with her master’s degree in spring 2020, and plans to work as a wildlife biologist.



Brittiny Johnson
Director of Public Affairs
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