Climate Change and Human Evolution
Dramatic changes in African Climate may have been implicated in faunal evolution in Africa during the last 12 million years. The East African Rift Valley continues to reveal a remarkable archive of human evolution. Marine sediments offshore preserve continuous climate information which can help to explore the potential pressures driving evolutionary changes. Many parts of the evolutionary history and climate history of the region remain to be discovered making this an exciting arena for interdisciplinary research with fundamental implications for who we are and why we are here.
Our research seeks to explore climate change during the Miocene, Pliocene and Pleistocene using compound specific isotopic approaches. This research will yield fundamental insights into environmental transformations during this time interval. Ultimately this research has broader impacts for paleoanthropology, in order to explore the possible climatic pressures on evolution at key branch points in evolution of the hominins and emergence of important 'human' traits such as bipedalism.
The question of environmental change driving evolution is highlighted as one of the themes motivating the next decade of ocean drilling. The record of vegetation change from plant leaf waxes (Feakins et al., 2005, Geology) is featured on p34 of the IODP Science Plan for 2013-2023.
I participated in a National Research Council Workshop on Climate Change and Human Evolution, at the National Academies in Irvine, CA. A publication arising from that meeting and the work of the committee is available here.