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The Secret To Survival: How Homo Sapiens Outlasted Other Homonins

Jul 31, 2018 07:16 PM EDT
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As the last surviving humans on the planet, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate about the Homo sapiens. Particularly, a new study says, the species' adaptability.

Unlike other hominins such as the Neanderthals and Homo erectus, Homo sapiens are capable of occupying and utilizing a wide range of different environments, even extreme ones. Scientists say that this ability to roll with the punches could very well be the reason for the species' survival even as their cousins die out.

Homo Sapiens Flourished In A Variety Of Landscapes

In a paper published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the University of Michigan suggest that Homo sapiens outlived other hominins due to their "unique ecological plasticity."

From Africa, where the first of the Homo genus sprung up roughly 3 million years ago, humans dispersed in search of greener pastures. Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis, and other members of the genus made their way through Europe and Asia over the many millennia, but these species stuck primarily to forests and grasslands.

Meanwhile, Homo sapiens ventured and thrived in more exotic landscapes by 80,000 to 50,000 years ago. These extreme settings include palaeoarctic locations and tropical rainforest conditions in Asia, Melanesia, and the Americas as well as deserts and mountain peaks throughout Africa and Asia.

There are no existing evidence that any other homonin species lived for long in the same challenging locations that the Homo sapiens made their home.

A New Ecological Niche

After tracing the journey of Homo sapiens, the team suggests that the modern human species developed an entirely new ecological niche as a "generalist specialist."

Lead author Dr. Patrick Roberts explains that there's a traditional ecological dichotomy between what's known as "generalists" who use different resources and live in a variety of environmental conditions and "specialists" whose diet and environmental tolerance are quite limited.

"However, Homo sapiens furnish evidence for 'specialist' populations, such as mountain rainforest foragers or palaeoarctic mammoth hunters, existing within what is traditionally defined as a 'generalist' species," Roberts continues.

What These Findings Mean

While the authors caution that their suggestions remain hypothetical, the new niche of generalist specialist could spur further studies on extreme environments that could yield more information on the ancient humans.

It also demonstrates the significance of the environmental factor in the study of early humans.

"[An] ecological perspective on the origins and nature of our species potentially illuminates the unique path of Homo sapiens as it rapidly came to dominate the Earth's diverse continents and environments," Roberts points out.

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