Past extinctions of Homo species coincided with increased vulnerability to climatic change

Raia, Pasquale; Mondanaro, Alessandro; Melchionna, Marina; Di Febbraro, Mirko; Diniz-Filho, Jose A F; Rangel, Thiago F; Holden, Philip B; Carotenuto, Francesco; Edwards, Neil R; Lima-Ribeiro, Matheus S; Profico, Antonio; Maiorano, Luigi; Castiglione, Silvia; Serio, Carmela and Rook, Lorenzo (2020). Past extinctions of Homo species coincided with increased vulnerability to climatic change. One Earth, 3(4) pp. 480–490.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.oneear.2020.09.007

Abstract

At least six different Homo species populated the World during the latest Pliocene to the Pleistocene. The extinction of all but one of them is currently shrouded in mystery, and no consistent explanation has yet been advanced, despite the enormous importance of the matter. Here, we use a recently implemented past climate emulator and an extensive fossil database spanning 2,754 archaeological records to model climatic niche evolution in Homo. We find statistically robust evidence that the three Homo species representing terminating, independent lineages, H. erectus, H. heidelbergensis, and H. neanderthalensis, lost a significant portion of their climatic niche space just before extinction, with no corresponding reduction in physical range. This reduction coincides with increased vulnerability to climate change. In the case of Neanderthals, the increased extinction risk was probably exacerbated by competition with H. sapiens. This study suggests that climate change was the primary factor in the extinction of Homo species.

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