Species range shifts in Neanderthals

Miss Keziah Conroy1, Professor Robert Foley1

1University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom


Spatial information is a major element in palaeoanthropology, as fossils or archaeological site distributions reflect species or cultural extents and environmental relationships. However, most applications are descriptive, based solely on the fossil or archaeological record. Neo-ecologists have developed more formal models – species distribution models – that combine probabilistic parameters with distributions to provide a more robust and biologically meaningful estimates of distributions.

These models have great potential in the past. Where a neo-ecologist would use contemporary species occurrence records and environmental variables, along with future climate projections, a palaeoecologist could use fossil sites and palaeoclimate models to reconstruct past distributions.

This paper employs SDMs to explore distributions among hominins. Unlike Homo sapiens, our extinct relatives were unable to achieve a global distribution, and ultimately their ranges contracted to zero as they disappeared. Are the differences between H. sapiens and other hominins the result of different ecological tolerances, or differences in their use of these habitats? Did particular environmental conditions permit Homo sapiens to achieve a worldwide distribution? To what extent did environmental change contribute to the pattern of range shifts leading towards hominin extinctions?

To investigate these issues we present a complete, time-sliced record of Neanderthal fossil sites (n = 235) alongside their palaeoenvironmental context, derived from palaeoclimate modelling. The available GIS methods are used to define environmental controls fossil distributions. Models are constructed for range sizes and boundaries during cold and warm periods, and used to track the distance and directionality of range shifts and their environmental context.


Keziah Conroy is a PhD student at the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies at the University of Cambridge. Her PhD is focused on species range shifts in extinct hominins, using methods developed primarily for conservationists, to model and reconstruct the environmental controls on hominin species ranges and extinctions.

Species on the Move

An International Conference Series

The conference brings together scientists and natural resource managers working in the disciplines of global change, biogeography and evolution, and relevant in contexts of natural resource management, biodiversity management and conservation, and theoretical ecology.

Species responses to climate change is a rapidly evolving research field, however, much of our progress is being made in independent research areas: e.g. understanding the process vs responding to the implications, terrestrial vs marine ecosystems, global meta-analyses vs in depth species-specific approaches. This interdisciplinary conference develops connections between these parallel streams, and across temporal and spatial scales.

Conference Managers

Please contact the team at Conference Design with any questions regarding the conference.

© 2015 - 2019 Conference Design Pty Ltd