Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Paleoclimate and Human Evolution

I've been keeping up a theme over the past week (here, here, here, here) on the climatic conditions during the major stages of human evolution. This seems like a realy important thing to know in order to understand the context and cause of hominin speciation events, and evolutionary change within hominin species. There is a paper in the latest issue of Evolutionary Anthropology reporting on a recent conference.

First off, we seem to have pretty good evidence that the earth's climate is quite heterogeneous over time. What are the implications of this for the "evolutionary histories of organisms"? There is a need to understand the link between climate variables and species turnover.

C. Lepre showed evidence that "African homo erectus originated during a period of precessional insolation and monsoon variability...rather than during a subsequent era of increased aridity"

The rest of the description illustrates how little we know about past climates. It seems that we just know a lot about how varaible the climate was. There were also discussions about new ways to measure past climatic conditions, most notably lake cores from various lakes in East Africa. The information gathered from these lake cores will have to be integrated with other fossil evidence.

"Finally, improved models are needed regarding how primates and other large mammals interact with food resources, competitors, predators, and disease vectors under changing rainfall and temperature regimes"

I know very little about climatology and I must say that I was dissapointed by how little I learned from this report. I think that this conference wasn't really about recapping current knowledge, but rather about discussing recent finds and discussing future research areas. I agree that it is important to think about how different climates affect ecologies (specifically human ecologies), thus affecting human biology, evolution etc...

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