Understanding how past climate may have influenced human evolution could be dramatically enhanced by an international cross-disciplinary research program to improve the sparse human fossil and incomplete climate records and examine the link between the two, says a new report from the National Research Council.
Climate and fossil records suggest that some events in human evolution -- such as the evolution of new species or movements out of Africa -- coincided with substantial changes in African and Eurasian climate. This raises the intriguing possibility that environmental factors affected or controlled our species' evolution. By altering the landscape, past changes in climate may have exerted pressures that led to genetic selection and innovation in humans. But because the human fossil record and our understanding of past climate conditions are incomplete, the details of how climates influenced human evolution remain unclear.
The report recommends several research initiatives over the next 10 to 20 years:
A public briefing to discuss the report's findings and recommendations will be held on March 31 at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Several members of the committee that wrote the report will present and answer audience questions. For more information, please call or e-mail the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).
The report was sponsored by the National Science Foundation.
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