Particulate versus integrated evolution of the upper body in late pleistocene humans: a test of two models.
Evolutionary biologists are largely polarized in their approaches to integrating microevolutionary and macroevolutionary processes. Neo-Darwinians typically seek to identify population-level selective and genetic processes that culminate in macroevolutionary events. Epigeneticists and structuralists, on the other hand, emphasize developmental constraints on the action of natural selection, and highlight the role of epigenetic shifts in producing evolutionary change in morphology. Accordingly, the ways in which these paradigms view and address morphological contrasts between classes of related organisms differ. These paradigms, although seldomly explicitly stated, emerge in paleoanthropology as well. Considerations of postcranial morphological contrasts between archaic and modern humans typically fall into one of two broad interpretive models. The first derives from the neo-Darwinian perspective and holds that evolution in the postcranial skeleton was largely mosaic (operating in a particulate manner), and that temporal change in specific traits informs us about behavioral shifts or genetic evolution affecting isolated anatomical regions (i.e., adaptive behavioral inferences can be made from comparative studies of individual trait complexes). The alternative model follows from the epigeneticist paradigm and sees change in specific postcranial traits as correlated responses to change in overall body form (involving shifts in regulation of skeletal growth, or selective and developmental responses to broad adaptive shifts). By this view, integration of functional systems both constrains and directs evolution of various traits, and morphological contrasts inform us about overall change in body form related to change in such things as overall growth patterns, climatic adaptation, and technological dependency. These models were tested by confirmatory factor analysis using measures of upper body form and upper limb morphological traits in Eurasian Neandertal and early modern fossils and recent human samples. Results indicate (1) a model of morphological integration fits the data better than a model of no integration, but (2) this integration accounts for less than half of the variance in upper limb traits, suggesting a high degree of tolerance for particulate evolution in the context of an integrated upper body plan. Significant relationships were detected between joint shapes and body size, between humeral shaft shape and body size and chest shape, and between measures of biomechanical efficiency and robusticity. The observed morphological differences between late archaic and early modern humans reflect particulate evolution in the context of constraints imposed by genetic and morphological integration. While particulate approaches to interpreting the fossil record appear to be justified, attention must also be paid to delineating the nature and extent of morphological integration and its role in both constraining and producing observed patterns of variation between groups. Confirmatory factor analysis provides a means of examining trait covariance matrices, and serves as a useful method of identifying patterns of integration in morphology.
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