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Random Drift With A Determined Outcome: A Parsimonious Null Model Of Neanderthal Replacement By Modern Humans Via Neutral Species Drift

By Oren Kolodny, Marcus Feldman

Posted 14 Mar 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/116632 (published DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-01043-z)

The processes that led to the demise of the Neanderthals and their replacement by modern humans have been the object of heated debate. Most hypotheses fall into one of two categories: one highlights the role of climate change, epidemics, or other environmental pressures in the Neanderthals' demise, and the other attributes it to direct or indirect competition with modern humans, who occupied the same ecological niche. The latter assume that modern humans benefited from some selective advantage over Neanderthals that led to the latter's extinction. We show that a scenario of migration and selectively neutral species drift can explain the Neanderthals' replacement. Our model offers a parsimonious alternative to those that invoke external factors or selective advantage, and represents a null hypothesis in assessing such alternatives. We show that for a wide range of parameters this hypothesis cannot be rejected. Moreover, we suggest that although selection and environmental factors may or may not have played a role in the interspecies dynamics of Neanderthals and modern humans, the eventual outcome, the replacement of the Neanderthals, was determined by the migration dynamics at the end of the middle Paleolithic, namely repeated migration of modern humans from Africa into the Levant and Europe.

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