Ecogeography, genetics, and the evolution of human body form

Charles C. Roseman, Benjamin M. Auerbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Genetic resemblances among groups are non-randomly distributed in humans. This population structure may influence the correlations between traits and environmental drivers of natural selection thus complicating the interpretation of the fossil record when modern human variation is used as a referential model. In this paper, we examine the effects of population structure and natural selection on postcranial traits that reflect body size and shape with application to the more general issue of how climate - using latitude as a proxy - has influenced hominin morphological variation. We compare models that include terms reflecting population structure, ascertained from globally distributed microsatellite data, and latitude on postcranial phenotypes derived from skeletal dimensions taken from a large global sample of modern humans. We find that models with a population structure term fit better than a model of natural selection along a latitudinal cline in all cases. A model including both latitude and population structure terms is a good fit to distal limb element lengths and bi-iliac breadth, indicating that multiple evolutionary forces shaped these morphologies. In contrast, a model that included only a population structure term best explained femoral head diameter and the crural index. The results demonstrate that population structure is an important part of human postcranial variation, and that clinally distributed natural selection is not sufficient to explain among-group differentiation. The distribution of human body form is strongly influenced by the contingencies of modern human origins, which calls for new ways to approach problems in the evolution of human variation, past and present.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)80-90
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


  • Bergmann's and Allen's rules
  • Comparative method
  • Ecogeographic variation
  • Natural selection
  • Population structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology


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