Height and weight-based methods of estimating surface area have played an important role in the development of the current consensus regarding the role of thermoregulation in human evolution. However, such methods may not be reliable when applied to early hominins because their limb proportions differ markedly from those of humans. Here, we report a study in which this possibility was evaluated by comparing surface area estimates generated with the best-known height and weight-based method to estimates generated with a method that is sensitive to proportional differences. We found that the two methods yield indistinguishable estimates when applied to taxa whose limb proportions are similar to those of humans, but significantly different results when applied to taxa whose proportions differ from those of humans. We also found that the discrepancy between the estimates generated by the two methods is almost entirely attributable to inter-taxa differences in limb proportions. One corollary of these findings is that we need to reassess hypotheses about the role of thermoregulation in human evolution that have been developed with the aid of height and weight-based methods of estimating body surface area. Another is that we need to use other methods in future work on fossil hominin body surface areas.
Cross A, Collard M (2011) Estimating Surface Area in Early Hominins. PLoS ONE 6(1): e16107. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016107
Estimating Surface Area in Early Hominins
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