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Review: The different adaptive trajectories in Neanderthals and Homo sapiens and their implications for contemporary human physiological variation.

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Neanderthals are our one of our closest evolutionary cousins, but while they evolved in Eurasia, we (anatomically modern humans, AMH) originated in Africa. This contrasting evolutionary history has led to morphological and genetic distinctions between our species. Neanderthals are characterised by a relatively stocky build, high body mass, proportionally wide bodies and shorter limbs, a bell-shaped ribcage with a wide pelvis, and a long, low cranial vault compared with AMH. Classic readings of Neanderthal morphology link many of these traits to cold climate adaptations, however these interpretations have been questioned and alternative hypotheses including behavioural factors, dietary adaptations, locomotor specialisations, evolutionary history and neutral evolutionary processes have been invoked. Compared with AMH, Neanderthals may have been adapted for strength and power rather than endurance and may have consumed a diet high in animal products. However, reviewing these hypotheses highlights a number of limitations in our understanding of contemporary human physiology and metabolism, including the relationship between climate and morphology in AMH and Neanderthals, physiological limits on protein consumption, and the relationship between gut morphology and diet. As various relevant factors are clearly linked (e.g. diet, behaviour, metabolism, morphology, activity), ultimately a more integrated approach may be needed to fully understand Neanderthal biology. Variation among contemporary AMHs may offer, with caveats, a useful model for understanding the evolution of both Neanderthal and modern human characteristics, which in turn may further deepen our understanding of variability within and between contemporary humans. Neanderthals; Anatomically modern humans; morphology; climate adaptation; power adaptations; metabolism; diet; physiology; endurance running.



Climate adaptation, Diet, Metabolism, Morphology, Neanderthals, Power adaptations, Humans, Animals, Neanderthals, Acclimatization, Climate, Adaptation, Physiological, Cold Climate, Fossils

Journal Title

Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol

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Elsevier BV