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Thread: Variation In Human Body Size And Shape

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    Post Variation In Human Body Size And Shape

    By Christopher Ruff, Center for Functional Anatomy and Evolution, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 1830 E. Monument St., Baltimore, Maryland 21205; email:


    Evolutionary trends in human body form provide important context for interpreting variation among modern populations. Average body mass in living humans is smaller than it was during most of the Pleistocene, possibly owing to technological improvements during the past 50,000 years that no longer favored large body size. Sexual dimorphism in body size reached modern levels at least 150,000 years ago and probably earlier. Geographic variation in both body size and shape in earlier humans paralleled latitudinal clines observed today. Climatic adaptation is the most likely primary cause for these gradients, overlain in more recent populations by nutritional effects on growth. Thus, to distinguish growth disturbances, it is necessary to partition out the (presumably genetic) long-term differences in body form between populations that have resulted from climatic selection. An example is given from a study of Inupiat children, using a new index of body shape to assess relative body mass.

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    Body Shape and Variation

    Adult Body Size and Shape Variation, (Harrison et al p 503 (see Helmuth pp 164-165)

    • Bergmann's Rule. Bergmann in 1847 stated that 'within a polytypic, wide-ranging, warm blooded species, the body size usually increases with habitat warmth.' It applies to Homo sapiens as to any other polytypic species.

    • Allen's Rule. Allen in 1877 said that 'in warm-blooded species, the relative size of the exposed portions of the body decreases with a
    decrease in mean temperature.' It does apply to the length of legs of people in different climates. The leg-to-thigh ratio is greater
    in hotter climates. Thus, the combination of Bergmann's and Allen's rules predicts that in a cold climate, humans and other warm-blooded animals will tend to be more round in shape, be larger in mass, and have shorter appendages. In a hot climate, the opposite will be true.

    • Gloger's Rule says that within a wide-ranging, warm-blooded polytypic species, those populations living in warmer, more humid
    regions tend to be more melanin-pigmented than those living in colder, drier regions. (better applied to Old World distributions
    than to the New World.)

    • Rensch's Rule says as follows: populations living in cold environments tend to have a generalized distribution of fat while those living in a hot, tropical environment tend to have localized fat deposits: steatopygia, the accumulation of fat in the buttocks amongst some Africans.

    • Thomson-Buxton's Rule says that populations living in a cold, dry environment tend to have smaller nasal indices (long-narrow noses), whereas populations living in warm, humid regions tend to have large nasal indices (broad-short noses).


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