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First-Wave Pioneer Settlers in Quebec May Hold Keys to Human Evolution

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Arrington
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« on: November 06, 2011, 08:21:18 pm »

First-Wave Pioneer Settlers in Quebec May Hold Keys to Understanding Human Evolution, Study Suggests

Thu, Nov 03, 2011





New research on the first colonizing pioneers in Quebec suggests that humans who were first in territorial expansion made a significant mark on the course of human evolution.
First-Wave Pioneer Settlers in Quebec May Hold Keys to Understanding Human Evolution, Study Suggests

Pioneer individuals who were in the vanguard of colonization in a region of Quebec had a selective advantage in bestowing their genes as the predominant genetic makeup of the expanding populations that followed, concludes a recent study. By implication, the study suggests that similar range expansions that have occurred in human history may have played a key role in recent human evolution. 

The study team, led by Damian Labuda at the University of Montreal, Hélène Vézina from the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi (UQAC) and Laurent Excoffier from the University of Bern, along with the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, examined the impact of rapid territorial and demographic expansions on recent human evolution and diversity by using and analyzing genealogical data, including more than one million individuals, of Charlevoix Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, a recently colonized region of Quebec. Because of the availability of complete genealogies reconstructed from local parish registers, researchers were able to study human population range expansion in real time.

Utilizing the BALSAC database managed by Hélène Vézina, they reconstructed descending genealogies of couples who married in the region between 1686 and 1960.  The analysis of these genealogical records, which extended to more than one million individuals, showed that the genetic makeup of the current population was transmitted mostly by those ancestors who were part of the "wave front", or vanguard, of the expansion into what was considered new or unsettled territory during that time period.

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Arrington
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« Reply #1 on: November 06, 2011, 08:22:10 pm »



Map of Charlevoix Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean region showing the range expansion dynamics and the wave front at different periods. Each filled circle represents a locality and its color indicates its age. Localities from the Charlevoix region are indicated by a black dot.  Credit: Image courtesy of Science/AAAS
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Arrington
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« Reply #2 on: November 06, 2011, 08:23:14 pm »

Said Excoffier: "We knew that the migration of species into new areas promoted the spread of rare mutations through a phenomenon known as 'gene surfing', but now we find that selection at the wave front can make this surfing much more efficient. There is thus a long-term evolutionary success of people living on the edge."

The research team leaders support this by pointing out that women on the wave front had a selective advantage in terms of reproductive success. They generally married about one year earlier than women in the following "range core" and had about 15% more children overall and 20% more children who married and had children.  This correlated with greater resource availability and thus less competition among individuals to access those resources. "People could indeed marry younger as more farm land was available on the wave front than in the core, where good lands were mostly already occupied", said Excoffier.

The study also implies the possibility that other human traits that may have been causal to the force for human exploration, population expansion and migration, such as curiosity or the drive to improve one's situation, may have been favored in the vanguards or pioneers of population range expansion and then passed on to their descendants as a part of the human evolutionary process.  Said Hélène Vézina, the BALSAC database manager:  "It is exciting to see how a study on a regional population of Quebec can bring insights on human processes that have been going on for thousands of years." 

Most human populations on the Earth today are the result of range expansions that occurred since early modern humans left Africa about 50,000 or more years ago to colonize the rest of the world.

The researchers caution that the study only represents a short period of human evolution of a specific farmer population within a limited geographical region, and so general inference to population dynamics and human evolution should be considered somewhat tentative, pending results from future studies in other parts of the world. This is a natural consideration in the course of scientific inquiry.

The results of their study are published in the prestigious journal Science, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Cover photo, top left: The Pioneer’s Cabin, Lawrence & Houseworth – Publisher, Wikimedia Commons 

http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/september-2011/article/first-wave-pioneer-settlers-in-quebec-may-hold-keys-to-understanding-human-evolution-study-suggests
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