By Alberto Masliah
Duke 2, Yale 0. But the Blue Devils’ latest triumph is due to their unique lemur facility, not their jump shot.
Professor Anne Yoder, a biologist who teaches “Evolution of Mammals,” will arrive on Duke University’s Durham campus Aug. 1 and take over as director of Duke University Primate Center as of Jan. 1, 2006. She follows former Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead, who started as president at Duke last fall.
Yoder’s research delves into the evolutionary history of mammals, specifically the workings of lemurs and their environment. She also studies the biogeography, or geographic distribution of species, of Madagascar, the island home of the lemurs. These animals, which make up half of the primate evolutionary tree, are largely ignored in the study of primatology, she said, and the Duke center is the only institute in the world devoted entirely to their study.
“In short, they have the lemurs,” Yoder said. “I love Yale, and I have had some very happy and productive years here. Because they have this center devoted to lemurs, it is the one job that would have taken me away from here.”
The center boasts the world’s largest collection of endangered primates and focuses on multiple aspects of primate study, such as research, teaching and conservation.
Yoder said she was attracted to Duke because it possesses an academic infrastructure Yale lacks.
“There is only so much research you can achieve alone, whereas at a center like this one, I can interact with other researchers on everything related to lemurs — reproductive physiology, genomics, behavioral ecology and so forth,” she said.
A North Carolina native, Yoder is no stranger to Duke. She received her Ph.D. from the university in 1992. Yoder said she was inspired to work with lemurs when she toured the center as an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
“It was a sudden awakening for me,” Yoder said. “It was an amazing, very sudden event.”
The University community has witnessed the previous exodus of faculty to Duke. Brodhead said this is not an oddity in the world of competitive academia.
“Competitive institutions like Yale and Duke are always going after the best people,” Brodhead said through Duke Vice President John Burness. “Sometimes it is from Yale to Duke and other times from Duke to Yale. In this case, Professor Yoder already had relations to the Primate Center beforehand.”
It is still unclear if Yoder will take other faculty with her, although she does intend to be accompanied by a graduate student and a postdoctoral fellow. She still has not decided who those students will be.
Currently, she mentors undergraduate and graduate students, as well as fellows working in her lab.
“I have been working with her for about six years now, and although it is sad to see her leave, this is a good move for her,” Kellie Heckman GRD ’05, one of Yoder’s students, said. “She is a role model for female scientists everywhere.”
By Alberto Masliah