Spotlight on… Todd C. Rae

Todd C. Rae

Position: Reader in Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Roehampton

Bio: Born in California, Todd completed his PhD at the State University of New York at Stony Brook (now Stony Brook University) in 1993.  Following his PhD, he held a position as a Kalbfleish Research Fellow in Mammalogy at the American Museum of Natural History before taking up a lectureship at Durham University in the UK in 1994.  Todd joined Roehampton in 2008.

Research interests: Todd’s primary research interests lie in documenting changes to the craniofacial skeleton across the evolution of anthropoid primates (monkeys and apes, including people). He has examined living and fossil primates in museums on five continents, participated in fieldwork expeditions to discover new fossils in Africa and South America and, along the way, contributed to the theory and method of phylogenetic inference. Todd’s interest in the evolution of the facial skeleton led to a collaboration with Thomas Koppe of the Institute of Anatomy, Ernst Moritz Arndt University, Greifswald (Germany), an expert in CT visualisation of internal cranial anatomy, to investigate craniofacial pneumatization (the paranasal sinuses) in the order Primates. Their collaboration has led to new discoveries in the pattern of sinus evolution in many groups of primates, including insights into the adaptation of our species’ closest relatives, the neanderthals.

You can read more about Todd’s work in this photo essay on revisiting the site of his PhD research, or see more about Todd talking about his research here:

Recent significant study: Although closely related species, Neanderthals looked very different from people. Three hypotheses have been forwarded to explain the distinctive Neanderthal face: 1) an improved ability to accommodate high anterior bite forces, 2) more effective conditioning of cold and/or dry air, and, 3) adaptation to facilitate greater ventilatory demands. Using three-dimensional models of Neanderthals, people and a close outgroup (H. heidelbergensis), Todd and his colleagues were able to test these theories via innovative computer simulations. Their findings suggest that both Neanderthals and people evolved to better withstand cold and/or dry climates than less derived Homo; however, Neanderthals were particularly well equipped to live in these conditions. These findings have been widely discussed in articles in Scientific American, Newsweek, The Guardian, Live Science,  and Tech Times.

Latest projects: Todd has recently begun to apply his CT experience to other anatomical systems, including the organ of balance in the middle ear, the semicircular canals of the bony labyrinth. In addition, he is currently collaborating with fellow Roehampton academic Dr. Lia Betti on a project examining three-dimensional pelvic shape in primates to better understand the unique selective pressures exerted on women due to childbirth.

Teaching: In the anthropology programme, Todd convenes Introduction to Evolution, Humans and Other Primates, and our third-year Palaeoanthropology module, which introduces the primate fossil record against the backdrop of changes in the environment and mechanisms underlying primate evolution.

 Did you know…?

  • that Todd is a member of the band Bauplan.
  • that Todd builds guitars and valve amps in his spare time.
  • that Todd’s middle name is Christopher. He uses his middle initial in publications to differentiate himself from a chemist with the same first initial and last name.

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