Nyakatura-Lab for Comparative Zoology

Séverine Toussaint

Dr. Séverine Toussaint

Alexander von Humboldt Foundation postdoctoral fellow
Séverine Toussaint PhD Nyakatura Lab Member

I am a researcher in evolutionary biology and biomechanics, with an interest in the evolution of arboreal adaptations of mammals. I tackle these questions with an interdisciplinary approach, blending knowledge and techniques from various disciplines, and I am dedicated to learning and developing new methodologies to push boundaries.

I graduated a BSc. in Evolutionary Biology (Paris Sorbonne University-UPMC), an MSc. in Fundamental and Comparative Ethology (Sorbonne University-Paris XIII) and an MSc. in Interdisciplinary Research in Life Sciences (CRI-Paris). During these years, I conducted several research projects in ethology, functional morphology, statistical physics and phylogenetics. I completed a PhD in Evolutionary Biology and Biomechanics (CRI-MNHN-Paris VII-Sorbonne University) studying the evolution of hands and feet of small arboreal mammals in the context of primate origins, with an integrative approach combining functional morphology, ethology, palaeontology and the conception and development of a novel force sensor technology.

After a 1-year first postdoctoral fellowship (Fyssen Foundation) studying adaptations of small mammals’ strategies in using vertical substrates, my current postdoctoral research project at the lab of Prof. Nyakatura at HU (Humboldt Fellowship) aims at better understanding the acquisition of nails and grasping mechanisms in early primates. The functional and evolutionary interpretation of some specializations that define the order of primates, especially the acquisition of nails and the divergence of the pollex/hallux, is still uncertain. This project aims at investigating the manual and pedal prehensile abilities of primates compared to various arboreal mammals. We will combine force and kinematic measures with histological and morphological analysis of hands and feet, to gain insight into the evolution of morphological and cognitive adaptations of the first primates in relation to their arboreal environment.

Additionally, I am dedicated to transmitting my passion for sciences and raise awareness among the general public, especially the young. I thus often give seminars in public schools, museums, universities, zoological parks, and in the media when appropriate (France).

I had the honour to receive: the SATT Lutech technological transfer award for my Leadership in a valorization project of a new force sensor for haptics, biomechanics and robotics (2017); the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship prize for my PhD work (2017); and the Chancellery of the Paris Universities Prize for my graduate work in the field of Biology (2019).

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