Before Farming

Centre and edge

a foundational concept in human population dynamics

Before Farming (2011), 2011, (1), 1–8.

Abstract

From the initial Pleistocene, human populations have occupied parts of three continents extending across more than 30 million km2 of geographic area. Some of this area was very similar in resource availability and ecology to the African habitats where hominins had originated. Other parts of the range were more difficult for Pleistocene humans to invade and sustain large populations. This basic fact has shaped many hypotheses of human dispersal and Pleistocene evolution. Thorne & Wolpoff (1981) applied synthetic evolutionary biology to understand the effects of ecological and dispersal inequalities in Pleistocene human evolution. The ‘Centre and Edge’ population model proposes a metapopulation that maintains clinal equilibrium between a diverse ‘centre’ and one or more peripheries, or ‘edges', that are limited in diversity. This model provides a good fit to many aspects of the Pleistocene human skeletal and genetic record. Departures from the model are good targets for investigating more refined aspects of dispersal and demography. The recent elaboration of metapopulation biology, including source-sink dynamics, genetic effects of range expansion and local adaptation, owe much to the basic Centre and Edge population model.

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Hawks, John