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Energetics as a driver of human morphological thermal adaptation; evidence from female ultra-endurance athletes.

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Murray, Alison 
Oakley, Saskia 
Wells, Jonathan CK 


Functional benefits of the morphologies described by Bergmann's and Allen's rules in human males have recently been reported. However, the functional implications of ecogeographical patterning in females remain poorly understood. Here, we report the findings of preliminary work analysing the association between body shape and performance in female ultramarathon runners (n = 36) competing in hot and cold environments. The body shapes differed between finishers of hot and cold races, and also between hot race finishers and non-finishers. Variability in race performance across different settings supports the notion that human phenotype is adapted to different thermal environments as ecogeographical patterns have reported previously. This report provides support for the recent hypothesis that the heightened thermal strain associated with prolonged physical activity in hot/cold environments may have driven the emergence of thermally adaptive phenotypes in our evolutionary past. These results also tentatively suggest that the relationship between morphology and performance may be stronger in female vs. male athletes. This potential sex difference is discussed with reference to the evolved unique energetic context of human female reproduction. Further work, with a larger sample size, is required to investigate the observed potential sex differences in the strength of the relationship between phenotype and performance.



Allen's Rule, Bergmann's Rule, Phenotype, adaptation, ecogeographical patterning, morphology

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Evol Hum Sci

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Cambridge University Press (CUP)