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Department of Geography


The ADaPt Project: Adaptation, Dispersals and Phenotype

Relative to other species, humans are characterised by considerable biological diversity despite genetic homogeneity. This diversity is reflected in skeletal variation, but we lack sufficient understanding of the underlying mechanisms to adequately interpret the archaeological record. The ADaPt project is a five year, ERC-funded project to improve our understanding of the origins of human variation in the past.

The ADaPt project will investigate the roles of habitual activity, energetics, neutral variation, and natural selection in producing variation within our species. The project addresses problems in our current understanding of the origins of human variation in the past by: 1) testing the relationship between environmental and skeletal variation among genetically related hunter-gatherers from different environments; 2) examining the adaptability of living humans to different environments, through the study of energetic expenditure and life history trade-offs associated with locomotion. This will be achieved by linking: a) detailed study of the global pattern of hunter-gatherer variation in the Late Pleistocene and Holocene with; b) experimental research which tests the relationship between energetic stress, muscle function, and bone variation in living humans. The first component tests the correspondence between skeletal variation and both genetic and climatic history, to infer mechanisms driving variation. The second component integrates this skeletal variation with experimental studies of living humans to directly test adaptive implications of skeletal variation observed in the past.

In the Department of Geography we are developing models of global climate and the spatial and temporal dynamics of primary productivity over the past 200 kyr to better understand the environmental conditions under which modern humans evolved.

Relevant publications

  • Eriksson A, Betti L, Friend AD, Lycett SJ, Singarayer JS, von Cramon-Taubadel N, Valdes PJ, Balloux F, Manica A. 2012. Late Pleistocene climate change and the global expansion of anatomically modern humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109, 16089-16094, doi:10.1073/pnas.1209494109
  • Friend AD. 2010. Terrestrial plant production and climate change. Journal of Experimental Botany 61, 1293-1309.
  • Friend AD, White A. 2000. Evaluation and analysis of a dynamic terrestrial ecosystem model under preindustrial conditions at the global scale. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 14, 1173-1190.

Predicted median arrival times (thousands of years ago) of anatomically modern humans (AMHs) during expansion from Africa as predicted by a model of dispersal incorporating spatially explicit environmental knowledge and patterns of modern genetic diversity (Eriksson et al., 2012). Histograms show the distribution [frequency (f)] of times for key areas of the world: (A) the Arabian Peninsula (the exit point out of Africa), (B) Southeast Asia, (C) Australia, (D) Europe, (E) North America, and (F) Central and South America. Red arrows show key archaeological findings commonly referred to as the earliest evidence for AMHs in those areas. Grey areas were never colonized, either because of extreme climatic conditions or a lack of connections to the mainland (sea voyages of more than 100 km were not allowed in the model). For clarity, arrival times were capped to 80 kya.