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J Hum Evol. 2009 Aug;57(2):179-90. doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2009.05.009. Epub 2009 Jul 14.

Revisiting the homoiology hypothesis: the impact of phenotypic plasticity on the reconstruction of human population history from craniometric data.

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Department of Anthropology, University of Kent, Marlowe Building, Canterbury, CT2 7NR, UK.


Homoiologies are homoplasies that are caused by nongenetic environmental factors. The homoiology hypothesis predicts that osseous regions subject to repeated biomechanical stress during growth should be more variable and, therefore, less reliable for the reconstruction of phylogeny compared with osseous regions relatively unaffected by stress. Previous studies based on the analysis of multiple primate species found that regions of the cranium subject to masticatory-induced stress were significantly more variable than non-masticatory regions, as predicted by the homoiology hypothesis. However, these studies also found that the masticatory regions were no less reliable for reconstructing primate phylogenetic relationships when subjected to parsimony analysis. It was suggested, therefore, that homoiology may be a more potent problem for the reconstruction of phylogeny at the intraspecific level rather than interspecific phylogenetics. This suggestion was tested here using matched molecular and craniometric data for 12 modern human populations. The results show that, as predicted by the homoiology hypothesis, regions of the human cranium related to mastication were more variable than non-masticatory regions. However, masticatory regions were no less reliable for inferring human population history. Therefore, the results match those found from the interspecific analysis of primate species and do not support the suggestion that homoiology is a greater problem for the analysis of intraspecific taxa. The results also suggest that within-taxon variability cannot be relied upon to predict the phylogenetic efficacy of morphometric characters.

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