New research could change how we think about human evolution

Laura van Holstein

Clare Fellow, Laura van Holstein, is the lead author in a study published today that could change the way we think about human evolution. Laura joined Clare as a Junior Research Fellow in 2022. She is an evolutionary biologist, primarily interested in the macroevolution (evolutionary processes ‘above’ the species level, such as speciation and extinction) and evolutionary ecology of our own lineage since it split from chimpanzees.

In the past, scientists believed that hominin evolution was largely driven by changes in climate. But this latest research has suggested that competition was, in fact, fundamental to hominin evolution. “We have been ignoring the way competition between species has shaped our own evolutionary tree,” said Laura. “The effect of climate on hominin species is only part of the story.” 

For the Homo lineage that led to modern humans, evolutionary patterns suggest that competition between species actually resulted in the appearance of even more new species – a complete reversal of the trend seen in almost all other vertebrates. “The more species of Homo there were, the higher the rate of speciation. So when those niches got filled, something drove even more species to emerge. This is almost unparalleled in evolutionary science.”