High-altitude hypoxia is one of many environmental stressors affecting human populations in the highland Andes. Living highland Andeans show adaptive physiological responses to these conditions through both developmental plasticity and natural selection. Given the longevity of human settlement in this region, these same responses ought to have affected ancient Andeans. This paper tests whether developmental plasticity or natural selection best explains the morphological signatures of adaptations to high-altitude hypoxia in ancient highland Andeans. I compare four groups of skeletons: two groups from lowland regions and two groups from high elevations. Previous work shows that the two highland groups have small bodies and voluminous ribs compared with the lowland groups indicating morphological adaptations to high-altitude environments. This paper compares patterns of intrinsic variation and sexual dimorphism in body size, limb lengths, and rib morphology in highland and lowland groups to test if developmental plasticity or natural selection underlies these morphological differences. The four groups share similar patterns of sexual dimorphism and intrinsic variation in body size and limb lengths. The two highland samples show greater degrees of sexual dimorphism in rib morphology than the lowlanders. Patterns of intrinsic variation in rib morphology do not sort by altitude. Both natural selection and developmental plasticity in response to high-altitude hypoxia likely shaped skeletal morphology in ancient highland Andeans.
Weinstein, Karen J., "Morphological Signatures of High-Altitude Adaptations in the Andean Archaeological Record: Distinguishing Developmental Plasticity and Natural Selection" (2017). Dickinson College Faculty Publications. Paper 765.