In DepthHUMAN EVOLUTION

How islands shrink people

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Science  03 Aug 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6401, pp. 439
DOI: 10.1126/science.361.6401.439

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Summary

Living on an island can have strange effects. On Flores in Indonesia, a meter-tall hominin called the hobbit hunted extinct elephants that weighed no more than a large hog and rats that grew as big as cats more than 60,000 years ago. Were these all examples of the so-called island effect, which holds that when food and predators are scarce, big animals shrink and little ones grow? Now, genetic evidence from modern pygmies on Flores confirms that humans, like other animals, are subject to so-called island dwarfing. On p. 511, an international team reports that Flores pygmies differ from their closest relatives on New Guinea and in East Asia in carrying more gene variants that promote short stature. However, they are not direct descendants of the hobbit, which probably independently evolved its short stature through the island effect.