Development and the evolvability of human limbs

  • Young N
  • Wagner G
  • Hallgrimsson B
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Abstract

The long legs and short arms of humans are distinctive for a primate, the result of selection acting in opposite directions on each limb at different points in our evolutionary history. This mosaic pattern challenges our understanding of the relationship of development and evolvability because limbs are serially homologous and genetic correlations should act as a significant constraint on their independent evolution. Here we test a developmental model of limb covariation in anthropoid primates and demonstrate that both humans and apes exhibit significantly reduced integration between limbs when compared to quadrupedal monkeys. This result indicates that fossil hominins likely escaped constraints on independent limb variation via reductions to genetic pleiotropy in an ape-like last common ancestor (LCA). This critical change in integration among hominoids, which is reflected in macroevolutionary differences in the disparity between limb lengths, facilitated selection for modern human limb proportions and demonstrates how development helps shape evolutionary change.

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Authors

  • N. M. Young

  • G. P. Wagner

  • B. Hallgrimsson

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