Variation, mosaicism and degeneracy in the hominin foot

MCCLYMONT, J., DAVIDS, Keith and CROMPTON, R.H. (2021). Variation, mosaicism and degeneracy in the hominin foot. Evolutionary Human Sciences.

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The fossil record is scarce and incomplete by nature. Animals and ecological processes devour soft tissue and important bony details over time and, when the dust settles, we are faced with a patchy record full of variation. Fossil taxa are usually defined by craniodental characteristics, so unless postcranial bones are found associated with a skull, assignment to taxon is unstable. Naming a locomotor category based on fossil bone morphology by analogy to living hominoids is not uncommon, and when no single locomotor label fits, postcrania are often described as exhibiting a "mosaic"of traits. Here, we contend that the unavoidable variation that characterises the fossil record can be described far more rigorously based on extensive work in human neurobiology and neuroanatomy, movement sciences and motor control and biomechanics research. In neurobiology, degeneracy is a natural mechanism of adaptation allowing system elements that are structurally different to perform the same function. This concept differs from redundancy as understood in engineering, where the same function is performed by identical elements. Assuming degeneracy, structurally different elements are able to produce different outputs in a range of environmental contexts, favouring ecological robusticity by enabling adaptations. Furthermore, as degeneracy extends to genome level, genetic variation is sustained, so that genes which might benefit an organism in a different environment remain part of the genome, favouring species' evolvability.

Item Type: Article
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SWORD Depositor: Symplectic Elements
Depositing User: Symplectic Elements
Date Deposited: 21 Jan 2022 11:32
Last Modified: 28 Feb 2022 14:30

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