Evolvability in Human Postcranial Traits Across Ecogeographic Regions

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date




Though recent quantitative genetic analyses have indicated that directional selection appears to be acting on limb lengths and measures of body size in modern humans, these studies assume equal evolvability across modern human groups. However, differences in trait covariance structure due to ancient migration patterns and/or selection may limit the evolvability of populations further from Africa. This study therefore explores patterns of human evolvability across ecogeographic regions.

Materials and Methods:

Mean evolvability, respondability, conditional evolvability, and autonomy were calculated from variance-covariance matrices of limb length and body size measures representing 14 human groups spanning four ecogeographic regions. Measures of evolvability were compared across groups and regions, and the minimum sample size, inaccuracy, and bias were calculated for each.


When compared between regions, humans demonstrate significant differences between indices of evolvability across regions. Despite the relatively recent evolution of modern humans, several measures of evolvability show a strong negative correlation with latitude across regions, demonstrating a reduction in genetic variance that is potentially reflective of human migration and/or response to selection.


These results demonstrate the importance of establishing patterns of evolvability prior to additional quantitative genetic analyses, and emphasize the influence of sample size on the accuracy of estimated evolvability measures. These findings also suggest that while modern human groups share similar covariance structures, there is evidence for emergent differentiation in evolvability and respondability between human groups across ecogeographic regions, further complicating our ability to apply results derived from modern human groups to ancient hominin lineages.


Epublication ahead of print 08 January 2020.



PubMed ID