Notable: Ancestry matters to ecogeography

Notable paper: Roseman, CC, Auerbach BM. 2015. Ecogeography, genetics, and the evolution of human body form. Journal of Human Evolution 78: 80-90. doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2014.07.006

Synopsis: Charles Roseman and Benjamin Auerbach looked at a physical anthropology question that is as old as Bergmann and Allen: Does the variation in human body shapes around the world reflect adaptation to climate? But they add a different twist by considering to what degree the shared ancestry of populations might weaken the relationship of body shape and latitude. The result shows that it doesn’t just matter where you live, it also matters who your ancestors were.

Important because: Anthropologists are increasingly recognizing that the phenotypic differences between human populations have emerged recently, within the past 30,000 years. Human adaptations have not reached an equilibrium, and some populations have stronger adaptations to their climatic circumstances than others. In that situation, the ancestry of populations makes a significant difference to their current body shape.

Another shoe: One aspect of the relationship among populations is the degree to which they have ancestry from archaic human groups like the Neandertals and Denisovans. Maybe this legacy explains some of the body shape variation of recent people. Testing that hypothesis may be challenging, since for the most part we do not yet know which genetic variations are important to body shape and size in different populations.