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Human Locomotion and Heat Loss: An Evolutionary Perspective

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Abstract

Humans are unique in many respects including being furless, striding bipeds that excel at walking and running long distances in hot conditions. This review summarizes what we do and do not know about the evolution of these characteristics, and how they are related. Although many details remain poorly known, the first hominins (species more closely related to humans than to chimpanzees) apparently diverged from the chimpanzee lineage because of selection for bipedal walking, probably because it improved their ability to forage efficiently. However, because bipedal hominins are necessarily slow runners, early hominins in open habitats likely benefited from improved abilities to dump heat in order to forage safely during times of peak heat when predators were unable to hunt them. Endurance running capabilities evolved later, probably as adaptations for scavenging and then hunting. If so, then there would have been strong selection for heat‐loss mechanisms, especially sweating, to persistence hunt, in which hunters combine endurance running and tracking to drive their prey into hyperthermia. As modern humans dispersed into a wide range of habitats over the last few hundred thousand years, recent selection has helped populations cope better with a broader range of locomotor and thermoregulatory challenges, but all humans remain essentially adapted for long distance locomotion rather than speed, and to dump rather than retain heat. © 2015 American Physiological Society. Compr Physiol 5:99‐117, 2015.

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Figure 1. Figure 1. Evolutionary tree showing the relationships among humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas, as well as the Last Common Ancestors (LCA) of humans and chimps, and of humans, chimps, and gorillas. The dates of the divergences are only approximate.
Figure 2. Figure 2. Record of the temperature of the earth's oceans based on δ18O from benthic carbonates. Note the general cooling trend over the last 5 million years, but with much variation.
Figure 3. Figure 3. Dates of species of hominins with representative skeletons from each of the major stages of human evolution. Species in the genus Homo are in black, species in the genus Australopithecus are in white, and early hominin species and genera are in gray.
Figure 4. Figure 4. Comparison of major locomotor features in chimpanzees, australopiths, and humans. Highlighted are ancestral features for arboreal locomotion in chimpanzees, derived features for walking in Australopithecus, and derived features for running in Homo.
Figure 5. Figure 5. Schematic of differences between eccrine and apocrine glands (see text for details)
Figure 6. Figure 6. Schematic of differences between vellus and terminal hair (see text for details).
Figure 7. Figure 7. Midsagittal comparison of the external and internal nasal cavities in humans and chimpanzees. Note the lack of a rostrum in humans, combined with the presence of an external nasal cavity, which alters the orientation of flow through the nostrils, producing more turbulent flow.
Figure 8. Figure 8. Scaling of surface area of the turbinates (top) and trachea (bottom) relative to body mass in a wide range of mammals. Humans fall significantly below the line (Data courtesy of T Owerkowicz, summarized in Ref. ).
Figure 9. Figure 9. Comparison of the face in four hominin species showing variation in the nasal sills and margins. Top left, Australopithecus africanus; Top right, Homo habilis; Bottom left, early African Homo erectus; Bottom right, Homo heidelbergensis. In all species of Homo, the lateral margin of the nasal aperture is everted, indicating the presence of an external nose.
Figure 10. Figure 10. Schematic of Bergmann and Allen's rules, comparing cold‐ versus hot‐adapted body forms (modified, with permission, from Ref. ). The cold‐adapted body form has a much lower ratio of surface area to volume.


Figure 1. Evolutionary tree showing the relationships among humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas, as well as the Last Common Ancestors (LCA) of humans and chimps, and of humans, chimps, and gorillas. The dates of the divergences are only approximate.


Figure 2. Record of the temperature of the earth's oceans based on δ18O from benthic carbonates. Note the general cooling trend over the last 5 million years, but with much variation.


Figure 3. Dates of species of hominins with representative skeletons from each of the major stages of human evolution. Species in the genus Homo are in black, species in the genus Australopithecus are in white, and early hominin species and genera are in gray.


Figure 4. Comparison of major locomotor features in chimpanzees, australopiths, and humans. Highlighted are ancestral features for arboreal locomotion in chimpanzees, derived features for walking in Australopithecus, and derived features for running in Homo.


Figure 5. Schematic of differences between eccrine and apocrine glands (see text for details)


Figure 6. Schematic of differences between vellus and terminal hair (see text for details).


Figure 7. Midsagittal comparison of the external and internal nasal cavities in humans and chimpanzees. Note the lack of a rostrum in humans, combined with the presence of an external nasal cavity, which alters the orientation of flow through the nostrils, producing more turbulent flow.


Figure 8. Scaling of surface area of the turbinates (top) and trachea (bottom) relative to body mass in a wide range of mammals. Humans fall significantly below the line (Data courtesy of T Owerkowicz, summarized in Ref. ).


Figure 9. Comparison of the face in four hominin species showing variation in the nasal sills and margins. Top left, Australopithecus africanus; Top right, Homo habilis; Bottom left, early African Homo erectus; Bottom right, Homo heidelbergensis. In all species of Homo, the lateral margin of the nasal aperture is everted, indicating the presence of an external nose.


Figure 10. Schematic of Bergmann and Allen's rules, comparing cold‐ versus hot‐adapted body forms (modified, with permission, from Ref. ). The cold‐adapted body form has a much lower ratio of surface area to volume.
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Daniel E. Lieberman. Human Locomotion and Heat Loss: An Evolutionary Perspective. Compr Physiol 2014, 5: 99-117. doi: 10.1002/cphy.c140011