Friday, March 16, 2012

Climate Change Drives Human Evolution Out of Africa

Stewart and Stringer discuss in Science (subscription required) their synthesis of paleoclimate data with biogeographical data during glacial-interglacial cycles in Eurasia. Combining these data with recent insights from ancient DNA and the human fossil record outside of Africa, these authors put forward an argument that highlights the importance of climate refugia (areas where a temperate adapted species survives through a harsh glacial cycle) in shaping human evolution. Small populations of hominins trapped in refugia would have differentiated by genetic drift and local adaptation, leading to the formation of new species such as H. antecessor and Neanderthals. The authors suggest that this biogeographic model may even explain patterns of interbreeding between modern humans and archaic species which have been inferred from genetic data (e.g.)

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