Sunday, September 6, 2009

"Human" vs. "animal" evolution

I thought a recent study from PLoS ONE might be of interest to some of you. In this meta-amalysis, McKellar and Hendry have compared within- and among-population phenotypic levels of variation in humans and animals, for body height and body mass. This study is I think very nice because it is clearly conceptualized, and the results are really straight-forward and well discussed. They also used an estimate of variation called CV, the coefficient of variation that was introduced by Houle in 1992 in a paper published in Genetics and that has in my opinion been a bit neglected by quantitative geneticists. This estimate has the advantage of being scale-free, and therefore allows comparisons between populations or species without bias.

They used an impressive dataset of 99 human populations, 210 animal populations and 848 animal species. Their main conclusions are that within-population variation in body height (but not body mass) is relatively low in humans, whereas among-population variation is more or less similar to what one might measure in animal populations. They interpret it as a sign for strong natural selection on body height in human populations which have become locally adapted.

This paper is, I am sure, probably going to be cited in the media, if it has not already been done, and will probably contribute to the growing success of PLoS ONE. Andrew Hendry has also been working on human influence on evolutionary rates of animals and more in particular human influence on beak size bimodality in finches. He is particularly interested in studying cases of rapid evolution and in the way ecology and evolution interacts on contemporary time scales. I am honored to have him as an opponent for my thesis defense that will take place on the 20th of November, and I can already tell you that Andrew will give a talk on these subjects on Thursday the 19th of November, at 13.00 in Blå Hallen at the Ecology Building.

If you are interested in contemporary evolution, if you have no idea what the term "eco-evolutionary dynamics" really means or simply if this PloS ONE paper has intrigued you, I recommend already now that you mark this date in your calendars, because you will probably don’t want to miss this talk.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post Fabrice, I separated it into different sections, without changing the content, to improve readability.