A major change in rate of climate niche envelope evolution during hominid history

Mondanaro, Alessandro; Melchiona, Marina; Di Febbraro, Mirko; Castiglione, Silvia; Holden, Philip B.; Edwards, Neil R.; Carotenuto, Francesco; Maiorano, Luigi; Modafferi, Maria; Serio, Carmela; Diniz-Filho, Josè A.F.; Rangel, Thiago; Rook, Lorenzo; O'Higgins, Paul; Spikins, Penny; Profico, Antonia and Raia, Pasquale (2020). A major change in rate of climate niche envelope evolution during hominid history. iScience, 23(11), article no. 101693.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.isci.2020.101693


Homo sapiens is the only species alive able to take advantage of its cognitive abilities to inhabit almost all environments on Earth. Humans are able to culturally construct, rather than biologically inherit, their occupied climatic niche to a degree unparalleled within the animal kingdom. Precisely when hominins acquired such an ability remains unknown, and scholars disagree on the extent to which our ancestors shared this same ability. Here, we settle this issue using fine-grained palaeoclimatic data, extensive archaeological data and phylogenetic comparative methods. Our results indicate that whereas early hominins were forced to live under physiologically suitable climatic conditions, with the emergence of H. heidelbergensis, the Homo climatic niche expanded beyond its natural limits, despite progressive harshening in global climates. This indicates that technological innovations providing effective exploitation of cold and seasonal habitats predated the emergence of Homo sapiens.

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