Oct. 15 (UPI) — What happened to the hominins that came before Homo sapiens?
New research published Thursday in the journal One Earth suggests climate change likely drove the earliest human species to extinction.
Until now, most hominin research has focused on when and where the earliest human species emerged, as well as how they dispersed out of Africa. And more attention has been paid to the disappearance of the dinosaurs than the demise of our earliest human relatives, researchers say.
Lead study author Pasquale Raia, associate professor of paleobiology at the University of Naples Federico II in Italy, suggests the dearth of science on the topic speaks to the difficulty of the research.
“The evidence was so scarce and scattered that nobody really embarked on a systematic study of Homo species extinction trajectory,” Raia told UPI in an email. “We were the first, and we demonstrated the good old unproven story that species simply replaced one another in time is wrong.”
In addition to a lack of evidence, Raia estimates the hubris of modern humans has gotten in the way of sound science on the topic.
“There is some sort of homo sapiens-centrism in our minds,” Raia said. “We believe we’re just better, the culmination of a stepwise process from one species to the next, and that’s the whole story.”
For the new study, Raia and his colleagues integrated spatially organized palaeoclimatic data with information on the age and location of six Homo fossil species.
“From there, you can ‘learn’ the species climatic preferences and tolerance limits, and even project their niche in time and space through the application of a technique named species distribution modeling,” Raia told UPI.
The models showed, with surprising consistency, that extinct hominin species lost large swaths of their climatic niche just prior extinction.
If not the main driver of Homo extinctions, the findings suggest climate change played a sizable role in the disappearance of our earliest human relatives.
Raia suggests the breakthrough study is a warning to the last remaining Homo species.
“The message is that we’d be better off taking extreme measures against the global change effects,” he said. “If even the most mentally powerful species on Earth couldn’t find a way to resist climate change, how could we expect the modern biota will fare better?”
“I don’t believe we Homo sapiens risk extinction by climate change, but we’re giving ourselves a miserable future, acting like greedy idiots,” Raia said.