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Am J Phys Anthropol. 2014 Mar;153(3):449-62. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.22444. Epub 2013 Dec 3.

Extreme climate, rather than population history, explains mid-facial morphology of Northern Asians.

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Anuchin Research Institute and Museum of Anthropology, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow, 125009, Russia.


Previous studies have examined mid-facial cold adaptation among either widely dispersed and genetically very diverse groups of humans isolated for tens of thousands of years, or among very closely related groups spread over climatically different regions. Here we present a study of one East Asian and seven North Asian populations in which we examine the evidence for convergent adaptations of the mid-face to a very cold climate. Our findings indicate that mid-facial morphology is strongly associated with climatic variables that contrast the temperate climate of East Asians and the very cold and dry climate of North Asians. This is also the case when either maxillary or nasal cavity measurements are considered alone. The association remains significant when mtDNA distances among populations are taken into account. The morphological contrasts between populations are consistent with physiological predictions and prior studies of mid-facial cold adaptation in more temperate regions, but among North Asians there appear to be some previously undescribed morphological features that might be considered as adaptive to extreme cold. To investigate this further, analyses of the seven North Asian populations alone suggest that mid-facial morphology remains strongly associated with climate, particularly winter precipitation, contrasting coastal Arctic and continental climates. However, the residual covariation among North Asian mid-facial morphology and climate when genetic distances are considered, is not significant. These findings point to modern adaptations to extreme climate that might be relevant to our understanding of the mid-facial morphology of fossil hominins that lived during glaciations.


Northern Asia; mid-facial morphology; population genetics; respiratory adaptation

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