Humans Were Once an Endangered Species

Lin Edwards writes on PhysOrg:

EndangeredHumansScientists from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City in the U.S. have calculated that 1.2 million years ago, at a time when our ancestors were spreading through Africa, Europe and Asia, there were probably only around 18,500 individuals capable of breeding (and no more than 26,000). This made them an endangered species with a smaller population than today’s species such as gorillas (approximately 25,000 breeding individuals) and chimpanzees (an estimated 21,000). They remained an endangered species for around one million years.

Modern humans are known to have less genetic variation than other living primates, even though our current population is many orders of magnitude greater. Researchers studying specific genetic lineages have proposed a number of explanations for this, such as recent “bottlenecks”, which are events in which a significant proportion of the population is killed or prevented from reproducing. One such event was the Toba super-volcano in Indonesia that erupted around 70,000 years ago, triggering a nuclear winter. Only an estimated 15,000 humans are thought to have survived. Another explanation is that the numbers of humans and our ancestors were chronically low throughout the last two million years, sometimes with only 10,000 breeding individuals surviving.

Read More: PhysOrg

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  • Rheokhu

    The notion of a species that remained few in number for a long time (until we figured out leatherworking, fire, shelter construction and horticulture, perhaps) seems more attractive to me than the “bottleneck” idea. Life would have been brutal, nasty, and short for a significant chunk of our species development, even if they fucked like rabbits.

    • quartz99

      “few in number” = “bottleneck”. That’s literally what it means when you’re talking evolution… short life span wouldn’t make a difference in that (look at mayflies. They only live a day and they’re quite populous) without some kind of environmental pressure that kept the numbers low. Higher infant mortality would contribute to a bottleneck effect, but there would have to be some environmental reason for the higher mortality. Unless our ancestors just really weren’t very well suited to their environments in which case I think I’ll just be happy they managed to eventually evolve to fit it better instead of going extinct ;)

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/PDDVWRQVUPMKRGHURIEQVNYWHQ Sean

    fun story to read with the current increase of yellowstone's recent surge in activity

  • tony

    oh, like anyone really has any idea at all what happened a million years ago – what crap

    • quartz99

      Not too keen on science there, are you, then? That’s fine. If you don’t believe in science, I’m sure you won’t have any trouble with not using the products of science anymore, you know, to show you’re not a hypocrite. Fire, shelter, medicine, cooked food, that computer you’re typing on and the monitor you’re reading from, you know, all that stuff we have now that came about because people learned about the world around them, how to control it, and how to interpret it. Like the fossils and geology from a million years ago that lets us know what happened then.

  • Dan Mac

    There may be a load of us overpopulating now–but we’re as endangered as we ever were.

  • Dan Mac

    There may be a load of us overpopulating now–but we’re as endangered as we ever were.

  • SoloShootsFirst

    Battlestar: Gallactica was all true!

  • Anonymous

    Battlestar: Gallactica was all true!

  • Anonymous

    Battlestar: Gallactica was all true!

  • Anonymous

    Not too keen on science there, are you, then? That’s fine. If you don’t believe in science, I’m sure you won’t have any trouble with not using the products of science anymore, you know, to show you’re not a hypocrite. Fire, shelter, medicine, cooked food, that computer you’re typing on and the monitor you’re reading from, you know, all that stuff we have now that came about because people learned about the world around them, how to control it, and how to interpret it. Like the fossils and geology from a million years ago that lets us know what happened then.

  • Anonymous

    “few in number” = “bottleneck”. That’s literally what it means when you’re talking evolution… short life span wouldn’t make a difference in that (look at mayflies. They only live a day and they’re quite populous) without some kind of environmental pressure that kept the numbers low. Higher infant mortality would contribute to a bottleneck effect, but there would have to be some environmental reason for the higher mortality. Unless our ancestors just really weren’t very well suited to their environments in which case I think I’ll just be happy they managed to eventually evolve to fit it better instead of going extinct ;)

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