Dr Susannah Thorpe of the School of Biosciences has been honoured with the award of Royal Society Leverhulme Trust Senior Research Fellowship to pursue her research in the area of human evolution and, in particular, the origins of human bipedalism.
The award is for scientists who would benefit from a period of full-time research without teaching and administrative duties.
In this Fellowship Dr Thorpe will study human indigenous climbers in Malaysia, that routinely climb in the forest canopy to access honey, and UK professional tree climbers. By recording their movement patterns, oxygen consumption and route choices as they access forest canopy from the ground and move within it, Susannah can start to explain how our ancestors were able to exploit both arboreal and terrestrial habitats, despite the sharply conflicting mechanical demands these habitats place on the body. At present the fossil record is highly inconsistent about how our ancestors remained effective in the trees.
This study can help us to understand our own evolution and provides an amazing insight into the lives of traditional hunter gatherers. It will also produce valuable mechanical and energetic information for professional tree climbers that could help them refine their climbing techniques.
Dr Thorpe said: "I am excited and delighted to have been awarded this prestigious Senior Research Fellowship in recognition of my research on early Human Evolution. The award will allow me to spend a year researching human's ability to move around forest canopy to start to understand how our ancestors could have continued to exploit arboreal habitats despite their increasingly modern body proportions and locomotion."