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Functional benefits of the morphologies described by Bergmann's and Allen's rules in human males have recently been reported. However, the functional implications of ecogeographical patterning in females remain poorly understood. Here, we report the findings of preliminary work analysing the association between body shape and performance in female ultramarathon runners (n = 36) competing in hot and cold environments. The body shapes differed between finishers of hot and cold races, and also between hot race finishers and non-finishers. Variability in race performance across different settings supports the notion that human phenotype is adapted to different thermal environments as ecogeographical patterns have reported previously. This report provides support for the recent hypothesis that the heightened thermal strain associated with prolonged physical activity in hot/cold environments may have driven the emergence of thermally adaptive phenotypes in our evolutionary past. These results also tentatively suggest that the relationship between morphology and performance may be stronger in female vs. male athletes. This potential sex difference is discussed with reference to the evolved unique energetic context of human female reproduction. Further work, with a larger sample size, is required to investigate the observed potential sex differences in the strength of the relationship between phenotype and performance.
Both extinct and extant hominin populations display morphological features consistent with Bergmann's and Allen's Rules. However, the functional implications of the morphologies described by these ecological laws are poorly understood. We examined this through the lens of endurance running. Previous research concerning endurance running has focused on locomotor energetic economy. We considered a less-studied dimension of functionality, thermoregulation. The performance of male ultra-marathon runners (n = 88) competing in hot and cold environments was analysed with reference to expected thermoregulatory energy costs and the optimal morphologies predicted by Bergmann's and Allen's Rules. Ecogeographical patterning supporting both principles was observed in thermally challenging environments. Finishers of hot-condition events had significantly longer legs than finishers of cold-condition events. Furthermore, hot-condition finishers had significantly longer legs than those failing to complete hot-condition events. A degree of niche-picking was evident; athletes may have tailored their event entry choices in accordance with their previous race experiences. We propose that the interaction between prolonged physical exertion and hot or cold climates may induce powerful selective pressures driving morphological adaptation. The resulting phenotypes reduce thermoregulatory energetic expenditure, allowing diversion of energy to other functional outcomes such as faster running.
Humans occupied almost all global regions prior to the emergence of agriculture and subsequent technological evolution, emphasizing the extraordinary biological and behavioral versatility of our species. Understanding this versatility may shed light on the past colonizing activities of our species, and on the selective pressures that favored the emergence of such adaptablity. The same plasticity is increasingly appreciated by biomedical research, investigating our present vulnerability to chronic degenerative disease in the expanding obesogenic niche.
The prevailing view in evolutionary anthropology has long been that the primary cause of between-population human phenotypic variability was genetic response to natural selection. As we enter the post-genomic era, it is increasingly common to search for genetic signatures of natural selection using genome-wide scans (Harris and Meyer, 2006; Laland et al., 2010). Comparisons with other apes indicate, however, that contemporary humans are characterized by a relatively high degree of genetic unity, given our unprecedented geographical distribution (Bakewell et al., 2007; Gagneux et al., 1999). Further studies suggest that human genetic adaptation appears to occur less through strong selection on novel alleles, and more through subtle alterations in the frequency of existing alleles (Hancock et al., 2010a, 2010b). There is also mounting evidence that a proportion of the genetic component of human phenotypic diversity can be attributed to random or neutral evolutionary mechanisms rather than natural selection (Harvati and Weaver, 2006; Roseman, 2004).
Detailed analysis of the anatomy and taphonomic process of a burial in Jordan shows that the body was originally bound in a sitting position and placed in marshland, where it collapsed into the splayed tableau eventually recovered by excavation. The authors succeed in reconstructing a burial rite from one of the most elusive of mortuary phases: the Early Epipalaeolithic in south-west Asia.
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