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Inside the Primate Osteology Lab

The University of Oregon Comparative Primate Collection, referred to as the “Grand Collection” after its most important contributor (the anatomist Dr. Theodore I. Grand, now at the National Zoo in Washington, DC), houses over 700 primate and 125 non-primate vertebrate skelet­al specimens. The primates consist mostly of Old World monkeys, but there are numerous Prosimians and New World monkeys as well. The non-primate collection includes a wide variety of placental and marsupial mammals (predominantly carnivores, insectivores, and rodents) from sloths to bats as well as a varied collection of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish.

From left: Alex Bengel, Trevor Edwards, and Amy Atwater at the 2012 American Association of Physical Anthropology Annual Meeting

Many specimens in the collection were assembled by Dr. Grand from captive, experimental, and natural contexts between 1963 and 1982 during his tenure at the Oregon National Primate Research Center. As a result, associated life history data (age, sex, cause of death, body weight, gestation length, and genealogical information) are available for most of the specimens, with an emphasis on macaques. Such data rarely accompany primate skeletal collections and permit the investigation of many scientific problems that: 1) require relating variables of the living specimen (tissue weights, body weight, demographic factors) to skeletal variables, or 2) require knowledge of genealogical history to investigate a trait’s heritability. In addition to traditional studies of primate skeletal and dental morphology, this collection offers the potential for unique research projects focusing on allometry, growth and development, and patterns of inheritance among primates. The Collection is currently supplying data for a number of studies, including new projects being planned by three research groups at UO whichare set to begin in 2012.

“I love being around scientific minds, and in a scientific community… Overall the lab has been a great learning environment.”

From left: Daniel Vermillion, Colin Oliveira, and Lauren Moore at the 2012 American Association of Physical Anthropology Annual Meeting

To ensure preservation and continued access to these valuable resources, the Grand Collection is currently undergoing renov ations to improve the quality of its curatorial and laboratory space, and to digitize specimen taxonomic designations. Since 2010 (when the Grand Collection began to undergo renovation) more than a dozen students have received credit hours performing over 800 labor hours to restore the Grand Collection. Our goal is to create a well-documented and accessible collection of non-human primate skeletal material that will be available for use in research and teaching. This is especially useful because the western US is relatively impoverished in such collections compared to other parts of the country. Working on the Grand Collection renovation and in the Primate Osteology lab is an invaluable learning experience: “…my favorite part about the lab is the cohesiveness of the staff and the opportunities I have gotten because of it. Without the primate osteology lab…course [work] would have been at least 3 times more difficult. I have learned more about bone morphology and pathology in the last term than I have in my entire life, and I find that to be invaluable, especially considering my future career in this field.” -from a student volunteer

Tabatha Rood at the 2012 American Association of Physical Anthropology Annual Meeting

In pursuit of this goal, Professor Frances White, Curator of the UO Comparative Primate Collection, and her graduate students will be working to integrate this collection with other biological collections on campus, including the Condon Collection managed by Edward Davis (MNCH-Collections Division) and the Zooarchaeology Laboratory managed by Madonna Moss.  Additionally, the researchers and students will have access to the Primate Morphometrics Laboratory, coordinated by Stephen Frost, which has facilities for several types of morphometric techniques and analysis. Integration of all University of Oregon biological collections, in the name of data accessibility, is a shared aspiration among this community for the near future. This achievement requires communal efforts in various departments and much of this integrative work, in addition to continuing curatorial maintenance, is made possible by student volunteers all over campus working to clean, sort, identify and catalogue specimens in the Grand Collection.

Rachel Peterson at the 2012 American Association of Physical Anthropology Annual Meeting

In addition to revitalizing an under-examined comparative collection, these opportunities provide students with hands-on experiences in a biological laboratory and skills relevant to collection management, bone identification, and zoological educational experiences.  “I really enjoyed the one on one time I got with the lab instructors…I found this particularly helpful in my learning and expansion of knowledge.  I think the lab and atmosphere is wonderful and broadens learning to a degree not achieved in a normal classroom…this lab was an amazing experience that I feel very fortunate to have been a part of.”- from a student volunteer.

Samantha Buckley and Sarah Walker at the 2012 American Association of Physical Anthropology Annual Meeting

2012 Student Volunteers

Amy Atwater Alex Bengel Thomas Bennett-Stroud
Samantha Buckley Ashley Redd Reed Cowden
Brandon Hardman Dylan Martin Lauren Moore
Colin Oliveira Daniel Vermillion Trevor Edwards
Tabatha Rood Nicole Waite Daniel Goodkin-Gold
Sarah Walker Meghann Wilks Sam Frost

Volunteers are coordinated by Asst. Curator Andrea Eller. Thank you everyone, for all your hard work.

For more information on the Grand Collection, including access for researchers, please contact Dr. Frances White.
For Open Lab Hours, click here.