What species will survive humans?

Homo sapiens: survival through adaptation

Jena / Ann Arbor (USA) - The success story of Homo sapiens was perhaps less based on toolmaking, language and intelligence than on its special ability to adapt to different living spaces. This property could have been the decisive advantage over other representatives of the homo genus, as two anthropologists explain in the journal "Nature Human Behavior". The prerequisites for being able to live in different climatic zones and altitudes were, on the one hand, genetic changes that made it possible, for example, to survive in the thin air of mountain regions or to eat one-sidedly in arctic regions. On the other hand, cooperative behavior and the passing on of cultural techniques played an important role. According to the authors, paleontologists should increasingly look for ecological clues that confirm or refute this hypothesis.

"An ecological look at the origins and nature of our species could provide information about the unique development path of Homo sapiens," says Patrick Roberts from the Max Planck Institute for the History of Human Beings in Jena. "Food sharing between non-relatives, long-distance contact and exchange between populations, and ritual relationships would have made it easier for individual groups to adapt to local environmental changes and displace other species," added Brian Stewart of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. The two researchers substantiate their hypothesis with published data from archaeological and palaeontological finds dating from 300,000 to 12,000 years ago and allowing conclusions to be drawn about the respective habitats of Homo sapiens and other human species.

Both in Africa and on other continents, representatives of the genus Homo lived in savannah and forest landscapes, on rivers and seashores. But Homo sapiens was possibly the only species that could also exist permanently in mountainous regions of Africa, Tibet and the Andes, in tropical rainforests, desert and polar regions. Related species such as Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis were likely to have been more restricted in their habitat and diet choices. There are too few finds of early human remains from desert areas or from the Amazon rainforest, according to the researchers. Such fossils could prove whether only Homo sapiens or other human species were able to develop new and extreme habitats. The key to success was perhaps the combination of two strategies that are normally considered alternative ways of life in biology: As a "generalist", Homo sapiens could colonize very different habitats and adapt his diet accordingly. As “specialists”, some populations have developed special adaptations if necessary, which also made it possible to live under extreme environmental conditions. A lack of such flexibility could have led to the extinction of all other human species.

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