Comment on the Paleoenvironment of Ardipithecus ramidus
ABSTRACT White and colleagues (Research Articles, 2 October 2009, pp. 65-67 and www.sciencemag.org/ardipithecus) characterized the paleoenvironment of Ardipithecus ramidus at Aramis, Ethiopia, which they described as containing habitats ranging from woodland to forest patches. In contrast, we find the environmental context of Ar. ramidus at Aramis to be represented by what is commonly referred to as tree- or bush-savanna, with 25% or less woody canopy cover.
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ABSTRACT: Current evidence suggests that many of the major events in hominin evolution occurred in East Africa. Hence, over the past two decades, there has been intensive work undertaken to understand African palaeoclimate and tectonics in order to put together a coherent picture of how the environment of Africa has varied over the past 10 Myr. A new consensus is emerging that suggests the unusual geology and climate of East Africa created a complex, environmentally very variable setting. This new understanding of East African climate has led to the pulsed climate variability hypothesis that suggests the long-term drying trend in East Africa was punctuated by episodes of short alternating periods of extreme humidity and aridity which may have driven hominin speciation, encephalization and dispersals out of Africa. This hypothesis is unique as it provides a conceptual framework within which other evolutionary theories can be examined: first, at macro-scale comparing phylogenetic gradualism and punctuated equilibrium; second, at a more focused level of human evolution comparing allopatric speciation, aridity hypothesis, turnover pulse hypothesis, variability selection hypothesis, Red Queen hypothesis and sympatric speciation based on sexual selection. It is proposed that each one of these mechanisms may have been acting on hominins during these short periods of climate variability, which then produce a range of different traits that led to the emergence of new species. In the case of Homo erectus (sensu lato), it is not just brain size that changes but life history (shortened inter-birth intervals, delayed development), body size and dimorphism, shoulder morphology to allow thrown projectiles, adaptation to long-distance running, ecological flexibility and social behaviour. The future of evolutionary research should be to create evidence-based meta-narratives, which encompass multiple mechanisms that select for different traits leading ultimately to speciation.Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences 03/2015; 370(1663). DOI:10.1098/rstb.2014.0064 · 6.31 Impact Factor
Article: Parasites and human evolution[Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: Our understanding of human evolutionary and population history can be advanced by ecological and evolutionary studies of our parasites. Many parasites flourish only in the presence of very specific human behaviors and in specific habitats, are wholly dependent on us, and have evolved with us for thousands or millions of years. Therefore, by asking when and how we first acquired those parasites, under which environmental and cultural conditions we are the most susceptible, and how the parasites have evolved and adapted to us and we in response to them, we can gain considerable insight into our own evolutionary history.[1, 2] As examples, the tapeworm life cycle is dependent on our consumption of meat,3 the divergence of body and head lice may have been subsequent to the development of clothing,[4, 5] and malaria hyperendemicity may be associated with agriculture. Thus, the evolutionary and population histories of these parasites are likely intertwined with critical aspects of human biology and culture. Here I review the mechanics of these and multiple other parasite proxies for human evolutionary history and discuss how they currently complement our fossil, archeological, molecular, linguistic, historical, and ethnographic records. I also highlight potential future applications of this promising model for the field of evolutionary anthropology.Evolutionary Anthropology Issues News and Reviews 11/2014; 23(6). DOI:10.1002/evan.21427 · 3.59 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: Humans are unique in many respects including being furless, striding bipeds that excel at walking and running long distances in hot conditions. This review summarizes what we do and do not know about the evolution of these characteristics, and how they are related. Although many details remain poorly known, the first hominins (species more closely related to humans than to chimpanzees) apparently diverged from the chimpanzee lineage because of selection for bipedal walking, probably because it improved their ability to forage efficiently. However, because bipedal hominins are necessarily slow runners, early hominins in open habitats likely benefited from improved abilities to dump heat in order to forage safely during times of peak heat when predators were unable to hunt them. Endurance running capabilities evolved later, probably as adaptations for scavenging and then hunting. If so, then there would have been strong selection for heat-loss mechanisms, especially sweating, to persistence hunt, in which hunters combine endurance running and tracking to drive their prey into hyperthermia. As modern humans dispersed into a wide range of habitats over the last few hundred thousand years, recent selection has helped populations cope better with a broader range of locomotor and thermoregulatory challenges, but all humans remain essentially adapted for long distance locomotion rather than speed, and to dump rather than retain heat. © 2015 American Physiological Society. Compr Physiol 5: 99-117, 2015.