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Evolution. 2010 Jun;64(6):1558-68. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2010.00944.x.

The coevolution of human hands and feet.

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Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy, University of Calgary, 3280 Hospital Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta T2N4N1, Canada.


Human hands and feet have longer, more robust first digits, and shorter lateral digits compared to African apes. These similarities are often assumed to be independently evolved adaptations for manipulative activities and bipedalism, respectively. However, hands and feet are serially homologous structures that share virtually identical developmental blueprints, raising the possibility that digital proportions coevolved in human hands and feet because of underlying developmental linkages that increase phenotypic covariation between them. Here we show that phenotypic covariation between serially homologous fingers and toes in Homo and Pan is not only higher than expected, it also causes these digits to evolve along highly parallel trajectories under episodes of simulated directional selection, even when selection pressures push their means in divergent directions. Further, our estimates of the selection pressures required to produce human-like fingers and toes from an African ape-like ancestor indicate that selection on the toes was substantially stronger, and likely led to parallel phenotypic changes in the hands. Our data support the hypothesis that human hands and feet coevolved, and suggest that the evolution of long robust big toes and short lateral toes for bipedalism led to changes in hominin fingers that may have facilitated the emergence of stone tool technology.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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