December 30, 2008

Competition Caused Neanderthal Extinction

New research finds competition between Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon populations, rather than climate change, was the driving force that caused the Neanderthal extinction.

The study was published in the online journal PloS One on December 24th.

Forty-thousand years ago Neanderthal populations occupied Europe prior to the arrival of humans.

Researchers, who belong to the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, l'Ecole Pratique d'Hautes Etudes, and the University of Kansas, reached their conclusion by reconstructing climate conditions during this period. 

They analyzed the distribution of archaeological sites associated with the last Neanderthals and the first modern human populations with an approach normally used to study the impact of climate change on biodiversity.

By combining archaeological and paleoenvironmental information, they reconstructed the regions where a past population could have lived.

The modeling approach helped researchers determine if the ecological niche exploited by this human population remained the same, or if it contracted or expanded during that period of time.

Researchers found that Neanderthals had the ability to move across Europe during a period of less severe climatic conditions called Greenland Interstadial 8, but instead their expansion stopped near human populations.

The researchers' models predict the southern limit of the modern human territory to be near the Ebro River Valley in northern Spain during the preceding cold period called Heinrich Event 4.

The researchers found that the Neanderthal populations that occupied what is now southern Spain were the last to survive because they were able to avoid direct competition with modern humans.

Researchers note that during this time contact between Neanderthals and modern humans may have permitted cultural and genetic exchanges.


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