Testing evolutionary hypotheses about human biological adaptation using cross-cultural comparison

R Mace, Fiona Jordan, Clare Holden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Physiological data from a range of human populations living in different environments can provide valuable information for testing evolutionary hypotheses about human adaptation. By taking into account the effects of population history, phylogenetic comparative methods can help us determine whether variation results from selection due to particular environmental variables. These selective forces could even be due to cultural traits-which means that gene-culture co-evolution may be occurring. In this paper, we outline two examples of the use of these approaches to test adaptive hypotheses that explain global variation in two physiological traits: the first is lactose digestion capacity in adults, and the second is population sex-ratio at birth. We show that lower than average sex ratio at birth is associated with high fertility, and argue that global variation in sex ratio at birth has evolved as a response to the high physiological costs of producing boys in high fertility populations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-94
Number of pages10
JournalComparative Biochemistry and Physiology - Part A: Molecular and Integrative Physiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2003


  • Comparative method
  • Human sex ratio
  • Lactose tolerance
  • Maternal mortality
  • Adaptation
  • Natural selection
  • Gene-culture co-evolution


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