Only the Strong Survive


An often cited claim that humans, who are smarter and more technologically advanced than their ancestors, originated in response to climate change is challenged in a new report by a Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology researcher at George Washington University. Many scientists have argued that an influx, described as a "pulse," of new animal species appear in the African fossil record between 2.8 and 2.5 million years ago, including our own genus Homo. Experts believe it takes a broad-scale event like global climate change to spark the origination of so many diverse new species. However, W. Andrew Barr, a visiting assistant professor of anthropology, published a report that says it's possible the pulse of new species could have occurred by chance and might not be directly related to climate change.

It is generally accepted that when major environmental changes occur, some species will go extinct and others will originate, which can create a cluster or pulse of new species in the fossil record. However, there is not a set definition of what is considered a pulse, so experts have disagreed about which clusters constitute meaningful events and which can be explained as random fluctuations. Dr. Barr used computer simulation to model what the fossil record might look like over time in the absence of any climate change and found clusters of species originations that were of similar magnitude to the clusters observed in the fossil record. This means random patterns are likely under-credited for their role in speciation fluctuation, he said.

Dr. Barr's findings mean scientists may need to rethink widely-accepted ideas about why human ancestors became smarter and more sophisticated.

Kemo D. 7

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