Investigating the case of human nose shape and climate adaptation
The study of human adaptation is essential to our understanding of disease etiology. Evolutionary investigations into why certain disease phenotypes such as sickle-cell anemia and lactose intolerance occur at different rates in different populations have led to a better understanding of the genetic and environmental risk factors involved. Similarly, research into the geographical distribution of skin pigmentation continues to yield important clues regarding risk of vitamin D deficiency and skin cancer. Here, we investigate whether variation in the shape of the external nose across populations has been driven by regional differences in climate. We find that variation in both nares width and alar base width appear to have experienced accelerated divergence across human populations. We also find that the geospatial distribution of nares width is correlated with temperature, and absolute humidity, but not with relative humidity. Our results support the claim that local adaptation to climate may have had a role in the evolution of nose shape differences across human populations.