Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Did climate change cause the extinction of two hominin species?


Many stories are told regarding our cousin species that died out:

Some have proposed that H. sapiens’ better technological abilities may have given us an advantage over the rest. Others have suggested we may have eaten a more varied diet or were more efficient runners than other hominins. Meanwhile, other researchers posit that, given high levels of interbreeding, perhaps some hominins did not go extinct as much as merge completely with our gene pool.

Deepa Padmanaban, “Climate Change May Have Been a Major Driver of Ancient Hominin Extinctions” at Sapiens

Some researchers now argue that the culprit was climate change:

For three of the five extinct species—H. erectus, H. heidelbergensis, and H. neanderthalensis—a sudden, strong change in climate occurred on the planet just before these species died out. Climes became colder for all three, drier for H. heildelbergensis and Neanderthals, and wetter for H. erectus. According to Raia, the change in temperature was roughly 4 to 5 degrees Celsius, on yearly averages.

The researchers further assessed just how vulnerable these species were to extinction by trying to determine their tolerance to climate change over time, using their presence in various locations as a clue to their preferred niche. The team determined that, before disappearing, H. erectus and H. heidelbergensis lost more than half of their niche to climate change. Neanderthals lost about one-fourth. Food sources likely dwindled as habitats changed, and cold may have threatened survival for species adapted to warmer climes.

Deepa Padmanaban, “Climate Change May Have Been a Major Driver of Ancient Hominin Extinctions” at Sapiens

The paper is open access.

It’s arguable that climate change is responsible for most extinctions. There’s nothing like an asteroid hit or mass volcanic eruptions to make an environment uninhabitable.

So our group survived because… ? Other researchers have offered some caution about the assumption that climate change is the cause, in part because of the sparseness of the fossil record. For example, “Similarly, anthropologist Giorgio Manzi, from Sapienza University of Rome, who was not a contributor to the study, notes that many elements should be taken into account to explain the disappearance of past Homo species.”

Hey, maybe they’ll all turn up in our genome. Where better to go extinct? 😉


Leave a Reply