For the past four decades Ian Tattersall has divided his research between two main areas:


Human Evolution:

  • Recognizing species in the hominid fossil record, and reconstructing the relationships among them
  • Understanding the mechanisms underlying the patterns of change and diversification observed in the human fossil record
  • Application of evolutionary and systematic theory to human evolution
  • Understanding the mechanisms by which a nonsymbolic, nonlinguistic ancestor gave rise to our linguistic and symbolically-reasoning species Homo sapiens


Biology of the lemurs of Madagascar:

  • Clarifying the origins of the unique strepsirhine primate fauna of Madagascar
  • Clarifying higher-level relationships within that fauna (i.e., between families, and between the Malagasy strepsirhines and those of Africa and Asia)
  • Understanding the lower-level diversity of the lemur fauna, and how many species there are of these primates
  • Characterizing and interpreting biogeographic partitioning of the lemurs within Madagascar
  • Understanding the unique cathemeral (24-hour) activity pattern seen in the genus Eulemur


He has also worked on dental anthropology, human osteological analysis, and paleopathology, and on the behavior and endocrinology of macaques, but is currently inactive in those areas.  He has conducted field research in places as diverse as Madagascar, Mauritius, Sudan, Yemen, Vietnam, the Comoro Islands, Suriname, and Borneo, and has current plans for others.