New Primate Center Director

June 1, 2005

 

Lemurs' boss: Yoder and her new charge

Lemurs' boss: Yoder and her new charge

Twenty-five years ago, as an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Anne Yoder toured the Duke Primate Center. A self-described underachieving student, Yoder says she had always been interested in biology and animals but had never known what she wanted to do with her life. After her visit, she says, that changed. She went on to earn her degree in zoology and to conduct research on the genetics and evolution of mammals, including lemurs. On August 1, Yoder will join the Duke faculty and on January 1, 2006, will become the Primate Center's director.

Yoder Ph.D. '92, now an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University, succeeds William Hylander, a professor of biological anthropology and anatomy, who has been the center's director since 2001. The Primate Center is the world's only research and education center devoted to prosimians, a classification that includes lemurs, lorises, and galagoes. The Duke center has the world's largest collection of endangered primates.

Provost Peter Lange says that Yoder's appointment represents the most significant step in Duke's renewed commitment to enhancing the Primate Center's complementary missions of research, teaching, and conservation. "The Primate Center's colony of endangered prosimians constitutes a precious scientific resource," Lange says. "The center must continue to play an important role in conservation while also becoming a leader in twenty-first century studies of these extraordinary animals, which present fascinating scientific questions and opportunities in the study of evolution, genomics, and behavior. Under Anne's leadership, these questions will be creatively addressed by researchers from across Duke and elsewhere, while also offering students an unparalleled educational opportunity."

Yoder's appointment, Lange says, builds on a review of the center's operation, conducted under Hylander, to determine how it could be better integrated into the overall mission of the university. The results of the review have led Duke to commit significant new resources to maintaining and upgrading the center's facilities.

For her part, Yoder says she is enthusiastic about the opportunity to "help realize the potential of the center as an integral part of the university's research mission," citing, among other things, the center's value in studies of evolution. "Lemurs and their close relatives are a part of the primate family tree that for the most part has been ignored in trying to understand humans' place in nature," she says. "Madagascar, where lemurs evolved, is probably the most productive and exquisite natural evolutionary laboratory on the planet. And lemurs are the crown jewels of the evolutionary process there." Evolution research at the center, she adds, will integrate especially well with the programs of the new National Evolutionary Synthesis Center--a collaboration among Duke, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University--headquartered at Duke.

Yoder also says she will seek to maintain the center's close ties with Duke's department of biological anthropology and anatomy and to establish closer research and education relationships with other Duke units, including the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences and the Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy (IGSP). Nicholas School collaborations could enhance the center's conservation efforts in Madagascar--including field research, efforts to reintroduce lemurs into protected areas, and a project to develop a zoological park at Ivoloina.

Among the center's long-term goals is the careful restructuring of its animal colony, emphasizing species that are of the greatest scientific and conservation interest, she says. These include nocturnal species whose evolution, genetics, and behavior remain deep scientific mysteries. Yoder says the center's enhancement will likely require additional facilities, including upgraded labs and a building for animal care and housing.

A Greensboro native, Yoder received her B.A. in zoology from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1981, and her Ph.D. in anatomy from Duke. She was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University and began her professional career as an assistant professor of cell and molecular biology at Northwestern University Medical School. After working as a research associate for the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, she joined the faculty of Yale as an associate professor in 2001 and also served as associate curator of mammals at Yale's Peabody Museum.

She has received National Science Foundation and L.S.B. Leakey Foundation grants for her research. Those studies have concentrated on the genetics and evolution of mammals, especially lemurs, and on the biodiversity and "biogeography" (study of the geographic distribution of species) of Madagascar.