Hybridisation in hominin morphology


16:00 - 17:00

This week in the CRESIDA Webinar series, Laura Buck from Liverpool John Moores University/University of California Davis will be giving a talk on 'The role of hybridisation in hominin morphology'


Advances in aDNA analyses have revealed that Homo sapiens interbred with now-extinct hominin species on multiple occasions during our evolutionary history.  Though such admixture is often reflected in skeletal morphology, this relationship remains poorly understood, hampering our interpretation of the hominin fossil record.  Direct study of hominin hybrids is often impossible due to the paucity of fossils and the difficulties of retrieving ancient genetic material.  Here we use a proxy, a sample of known-ancestry hybrids between two closely related non-human primate taxa, to investigate the effects of admixture on the skeleton.  We find a significant, but weak, skeletal admixture signal that is proportional to the relatively small morphological difference between the parent taxa.  The similarity in shape between the non-human primate taxa is in contrast to that between Neanderthals and H. sapiens, despite comparable divergence (in generations) between both hybridising pairs.  The greater disparity between the hominins may owe something to adaptation to dissimilar environments but may also reflect a unique degree of cultural buffering in hominins, which allowed for greater neutral divergence.  This work highlights one of the fundamental ways in which hominins may differ from our primate relations and provides a way forward for unpicking the effects of hybridisation on hominin morphology.

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