Pallid bat skull

Primate faces on Discover

uakariWhy do primates have such colorful and distinct faces? We have been trying to answer this question in a broad comparative context by integrating data on the two most likely drivers of primate facial diversity: sociality and ecology. A major challenge during this research has been to quantify the facial patterns in a way that is comparable across hundreds of primates species. So, we devised  a metric, “facial complexity”, which represents how many colors there are in a primate’s face. Much to my own surprise, the evolution of facial complexity seems to be tightly linked to social group size and species sympatry. This is usually a positive relationship (Neotropical primates are the oddball), indicating that differences in the number of colors in primate faces provide cues that might be used for species and/or individual recognition.

This research has been getting a lot of media coverage (I guess everyone likes monkeys!), and a new article in Discover magazine does an excellent job at decribing our complexity scale. Check it out:


Pallid bat skull


Welcome to the Santana Lab at the University of Washington and the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. We combine studies on the morphology, performance, behavior and ecology of mammals to understand their evolution and diversity. We are interested in questions such as:

  • Why are there differences in diversity across mammal groups?
  • How is variation in morphology related to the performance of organisms in nature?
  • What is the impact of behavior in the evolution of performance and morphology?
  • What is the role of ecomorphology in shaping ecological communities and in diversification?

Browse this site to learn more about the lab and find out about opportunities to join. Follow this site for lab news.