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The Effects of Mortality, Subsistence, and Ecology on Human Adult Height and Implications for Homo Evolution

Andrea Bamberg Migliano and Myrtille Guillon
Current Anthropology
Vol. 53, No. S6, Human Biology and the Origins of Homo (December 2012), pp. S359-S368
DOI: 10.1086/667694
Stable URL:
Page Count: 10
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The increase in body size observed with the appearance and evolution of Homo is most often attributed to thermoregulatory and locomotor adaptations to environment; increased reliance on animal protein and fat; or increased behavioral flexibility, provisioning, and cooperation leading to decreased mortality rates and slow life histories. It is not easy to test these hypotheses in the fossil record. Therefore, understanding selective pressures shaping height variability in living humans might help to construct models for the interpretation of body size variation in the hominins. Among human populations, average male height varies extensively (145 cm–183 cm); a similar range of variation is found in Homo erectus (including African and Georgian samples). Previous research shows that height in human populations covaries with life history traits and variations in mortality rates and that different environments affect adult height through adaptations related to thermoregulation and nutrition. We investigate the interactions between life history traits, mortality rates, environmental setting, and subsistence for 89 small-scale societies. We show that mortality rates are the primary factor shaping adult height variation and that people in savanna are consistently taller than people in forests. We focus on relevant results for interpreting the evolution of Homo body size variability.

Notes and References

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