Changes in limiting factors for forager population dynamics in Europe across the last glacial-interglacial transition

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Population dynamics set the framework for human genetic and cultural evolution. For foragers, demographic and environmental changes correlate strongly, although the causal relations between different environmental variables and human responses through time and space likely varied. Building on the notion of limiting factors, namely that at any one time, the scarcest resource caps population size, we present a statistical approach to identify the dominant climatic constraints for hunter-gatherer population densities and then hindcast their changing dynamics in Europe for the period between 21,000 to 8000 years ago. Limiting factors shifted from temperature-related variables (effective temperature) during the Pleistocene to a regional mosaic of limiting factors in the Holocene dominated by temperature seasonality and annual precipitation. This spatiotemporal variation suggests that hunter-gatherers needed to overcome very different adaptive challenges in different parts of Europe and that these challenges varied over time. The signatures of these changing adaptations may be visible archaeologically. In addition, the spatial disaggregation of limiting factors from the Pleistocene to the Holocene coincided with and may partly explain the diversification of the cultural geography at this time.
TidsskriftNature Communications
StatusUdgivet - sep. 2022