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February 17, 2004

Different altitudes, different strokes

Nature has an article about research which explores the various adaptations to high altitude living that alpine peoples have made, in this case, those of the Andes, Ethiopian Highlands and Tibet.

The findings:

  • Physiologically: the three populations have stumbled upon different solutions to the low oxygen levels at higher altitudes.

  • Genetically: the sequences of DNA in their mitochondria are very different.

  • Historically: the overall genetics of these peoples indicate that they are not the descendants of a small population that entered elevated altitudes and reproduced at a high rate when confronted by a new ecological niche, but rather various populations who emigrated from lowland regions at different points in history.

One thing to note is that the Tibetan plateau is more desolate than the Andean or Ethiopian uplands. While Tibetans are surrounded by more numerous nations, the Andes and the highlands of Ethiopia have traditionally been more densely populated than adjacent lowlands.

Here is an older article from the above researcher titled An Ethiopian pattern of human adaptation to high-altitude hypoxia.

GNXP readers might find it curious that the author of the above article lead a workshop titled: Human Dimensions of Biodiversity.

Posted by razib at 11:56 PM