Department of Anthropology
Old Main 330, University of Arkansas
Fayetteville, AR 72701
Phone: (479) 575-2508
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E-mail: anth@uark.edu

Home » Faculty/Staff » Michael Plavcan

Michael Plavcan

Michael Plavcan

Professor

Ph.D. Duke University 1990

Human origins
Primate evolution
Craniodental/postcranial anatomy
Sexual Dimorphism and behavior
3-D computer imaging and analysis

mplavcan@uark.edu

Dr. Plavcan received a B.A in anthropology and zoology in 1984 from Duke University, and a Ph.D. in biological anthropology and anatomy from Duke University in 1990. He received an NIH- funded postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Biology at the University of Cincinnati under Dr. Rebecca German from 1991 to 1993, studying human fetal craniofacial growth and development. From 1993 until 2001 he taught Human Gross Anatomy at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine. He joined the Department of Anthropology in the fall of 2001. He is a member of the faculty for the Environmental Dynamics Program at the University of Arkansas, and collaborates closely with the Center for Advanced Spatial Technology at the University of Arkansas. He was awarded the University of Arkansas Master Researcher Award in 2011. He was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2008.

Research

Dr. Plavcan's research centers on primate and human evolution, with a special emphasis on using comparative analyses of living species to understand the morphology and adaptations of extinct species. He is best known for his work on sexual dimorphism in primates and humans, which involves comparative work using both anatomical and behavioral/ecological data. This work has provided insights into the relationships between behavior and ecology in both male and female primates, and the evolution of sex differences in the teeth, skulls and jaws of primates. Applied to the fossil record, his work has been used as a basis for inferring the evolution of social behavior in primates and hominins. Dr. Plavcan has also carried out work on the statistical methods for comparing variation in the fossil record, the evolution of tooth size and shape in primates, the evolution of dwarfing in callitrichid primates, various systematic issues in primates and hominins, and the craniofacial morphology of ungulates. He has worked extensively in most North American and European, and African museums, and has collected large morphometric data sets on teeth, skulls, and skeletons of primates. He has carried out paleontological field work in Wyoming, Montana, Colombia, and most recently Kenya.

Dr. Plavcan is currently engaged in research using laser scanning technology to create computer models of the limb bones of living and fossil humans and non-human primates, which allow 3-D analysis and comparison of bones. This work represents the cutting edge of comparative morphometrics, and allows us to gather complex topological information on surfaces than can be used to study bone form in ways that are difficult or impossible using other data-gathering and analytical methods.

Dr. Plavcan is applying these methods to descriptions and analysis of hominin postcranial remains from Koobi Fora, Kenya, and South African cave deposits, primarily in collaboration with Dr. Carol Ward of the University of Missouri at Columbia. The Ward and Plavcan labs are also engaged in using 3-D scanning technology in the description of a variety of new fossil monkeys, apes, and hominins from Europe and Africa, as well as comparative and biomechanical analyses of postcranial morphology.

Dr. Plavcan is currently engaged in new field work in West Turkana, Kenya. Dr. Plavcan is a principle member of the West Turkana Paleontology Project, working with Dr. Fredrick Kyalo Manthi of the National Museums of Kenya (the Project Leader), and Dr. Carol Ward. Dr. Plavcan’s field work is centered on Kanapoi, the type site of Australopithecus anamensis. The project draws on the expertise of an international team of researchers to understand the fauna and environment of the Kanapoi site, which is crucial to understanding the origins of the australopithecines, and ultimately humans.

Dr. Plavcan’s research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, The Wenner-Gren foundation, the Leakey Foundation, The National Institute for Dental Research, Sigma Xi, and various University grants.

Teaching

Dr. Plavcan currently teaches undergraduate classes in Primate Behavioral Ecology, the Evolution of the Human Mating System,  and graduate classes in comparative statistical methods, and special topics in biological anthropology. He has also taught Human Osteology and Introduction to Biological Anthropology, and just may again. He has 12 years experience teaching Medical Gross Anatomy. He regularly advises students, and supervises both graduate and undergraduate thesis work.

Selected Publications

Manthi, Fredrick K, Plavcan, J. Michael, and Ward, Carol V. (2012) New hominin fossils from Kanapoi, Kenya, and the mosaic evolution of canine teeth in early hominins. S. Afr. J Sci. 108(3/4), Art. #724, 9 pages. http:// dx.doi.org/10.4102/sajs. v108i3/4.724

Plavcan, J. Michael  (2012) Sexual size dimorphism, canine dimorphism, and male-male competition in primates: where do humans fit in? Hum. Nat. DOI 10.1007/s12110-012-9130-3

Plavcan, J. Michael (2011) Understanding dimorphism as a function of changes in male and female traits. Ev Anthropol 20: 143-155.

Ward, Carol V., Plavcan, J. Michael, Manthi, Fredrick Kyalo. (2010) Anterior dental evolution in the Australopithecus anamensis-afarensis lineage. Phil. Trans Roy Soc. B 365: 3333-3344.

Plavcan, J. Michael, and Christopher B. Ruff. (2008) Canine size, shape and bending strength in primates and carnivores. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 136:65-84.

Plavcan, J. Michael, and David J. Daegling. (2006). Interspecific and intraspecific relationships between tooth size and jaw size in primates. J. Hum. Evol. 51: 171-184.

Plavcan, J. Michael, van Schaik, Carel P., and McGraw, William S. (2005) Seasonality, social organization, and sexual dimorphism in primates. In: (Brockman, D. and van Schaik, C. P., eds.) Seasonality in primate evolution, pp. 401-441. Cambridge University Press.

Plavcan, J. Michael (2004) Evidence for early anthropoid social behavior. In: (Ross, C, and Kay, RF, eds). Anthropoid Origins: New Visions, pp 383 – 412. Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.

Plavcan, J. Michael  (2004) Sexual selection, measures of sexual selection, and sexual dimorphism in primates. In: (Kappeler, P. M. and van Schaik, C. P., eds.) Sexual Selection in Primates: New and Comparative Perspectives, pp 230-252. Cambridge University Press.

Plavcan, J. Michael (2004) Evidence for early anthropoid social behavior. In: (Ross, C, and Kay, RF, eds). Anthropoid Origins: New Visions, pp 383 – 412. Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.

Plavcan, J. Michael  (2004) Sexual selection, measures of sexual selection, and sexual dimorphism in primates. In: (Kappeler, P. M. and van Schaik, C. P., eds.) Sexual Selection in Primates: New and Comparative Perspectives, pp 230-252. Cambridge University Press.

Plavcan, J. Michael  (2003) Scaling relationships between craniofacial sexual dimorphism and body mass dimorphism in primates: implications for the fossil record. A. J. Phys. Anthropol. 120: 38 - 60.

Plavcan, J. Micheal (2001). Sexual dimorphism in primate evolution. Yrbk Phys. Anthropol. 44: 25-53.
                               
Plavcan, J. M. (2000) Inferring social behavior from sexual dimorphism in the fossil record. J. Hum. Evol. 39: 327-344.

Plavcan, J. Michael (1998) Correlated response, competition, and female canine size in primates. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 107: 401-416.

Plavcan. J. Michael, van Schaik, Carel P., and Kappeler, Peter. (1995) Competition, coalitions and canine size in primates. J. Hum. Evol. 28: 245-276.

Plavcan, J. Michael and Carel van Schaik (1992) Intrasexual competition and canine dimorphism in anthropoid primates. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 87:461-477.