Variation in ontogenetic trajectories of limb dimensions in humans is attributable to both climatic effects and neutral evolution

An Di Yim, Libby Cowgill, David C. Katz, Charles C. Roseman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous studies showed that there is variation in ontogenetic trajectories of human limb dimensions and proportions. However, little is known about the evolutionary significance of this variation. This study used a global sample of modern human immature long bone measurements and a multivariate linear mixed-effects model to study 1) whether the variation in ontogenetic trajectories of limb dimensions is consistent with ecogeographic predictions and 2) the effects of different evolutionary forces on the variation in ontogenetic trajectories. We found that genetic relatedness arising from neutral (nonselective) evolution, allometric variation associated with the change in size, and directional effects from climate all contributed to the variation in ontogenetic trajectories of all major long bone dimensions in modern humans. After accounting for the effects of neutral evolution and holding other effects considered in the current study constant, extreme temperatures have weak, positive associations with diaphyseal length and breadth measurements, while mean temperature shows negative associations with diaphyseal dimensions. The association with extreme temperatures fits the expectations of ecogeographic rules, while the association with mean temperature may explain the observed among-group variation in intralimb indices. The association with climate is present throughout ontogeny, suggesting an explanation of adaptation by natural selection as the most likely cause. On the other hand, genetic relatedness among groups, as structured by neutral evolutionary factors, is an important consideration when interpreting skeletal morphology, even for nonadult individuals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103369
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
StatePublished - Jun 2023


  • Ecogeographic variation
  • Genetics
  • Growth and development
  • Human variation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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