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Thread: Could large feet and short stature be an adaptation?

  1. #1 Could large feet and short stature be an adaptation? 
    Malignant Pimple shlunka's Avatar
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    I was wondering whether comparatively large feet, coupled with small muscle build and short height, could have been desirable amongst early humans? Current desirable traits in males include large stature "having a stronger male provides better protection" as well as an imposing height. However, could these have been disadvantages among mountain dwelling humans? I'll offer an anecdotal example and a larger scale example.I do quite a bit of hiking/hunting with friends, all of whom are significantly larger than myself but with similarly sized feet. Despite them being physically more fit, and several being more experienced hikers, they tired faster and stumbled/fell considerably more than I did. I'm sure that their larger muscle masses required more calories which led to the tiring, but what explains the stumbling? Most of those who accompanied me were roughly 6' tall, and wore a size 11. I'm 5'6", and wear a size 11 and a 1/2. Could having a larger platform coupled with a lower center of gravity explain the fewer falls? Or is it related to coordination? The larger scale example that comes to mind are the Sherpas. After watching a documentary on them I noticed that all of them were shorter than the journalist with them. Could that be because short stature is actually desirable amongst mountain based populations, and therefore the short statured have reproduced more? Or simply due to a deprivation of oxygen in he high altitudes?Sorry that I'm very uninformed on physiological adaptations, thanks.


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    Forum Cosmic Wizard icewendigo's Avatar
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    Imo, being shorter may have its advantages, but if its "desirable" depends on the context and environment(physical and social), and it may be that an advantage is so marginal as to be made almost irrelevant compared to other factors.


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  4. #3  
    who sees through things
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    There could be adaptations for climate and altitude.


    Human Biological Adaptability: Adapting to Climate Extremes
    Human Biological Adaptability: Adapting to High Altitude

    There is also a hunter-gatherer tribe that has feet that bend further back then usual which allows them to walk up tree trunks

    Science Update: The Science Radio News Feature of the AAAS

    Perhaps there are variations in leg and ankle flexibility that help with mountain climbing.
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    Time Lord
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    Homo floresiensis, AKA the hobbit
    Amusing that modern people of this island are remarkably small, and insult neighboring tribes for alleged interbreeding with a mythical "little people" they call Ebu Gogo they claim to have finally wiped out over 500 years ago. A remarkably small Indonesian scientist seized the homo floresiensis bones, preventing others from examining them while announcing homo floresiensis nothing but deformed modern humans.

    Meanwhile on the other side of the globe some massive-boned guy with obvious brow ridges is writing papers from a Max Planck institute in Leipzig, to the effect that neanderthals are really misunderstood and sensitive.

    ***

    In modern times a small body is becoming more adaptive in the building trades. The reason is that plumbers, electricians, etc. often must fit their bodies or hands inside restricted spaces like crawlspaces or wall cavities. Some jobs a long-limbed person can't do comfortably or simply can't do. Personally, I can't quite maneuver my arm through the standard opening of a wall switch or outlet to reach a wire... this is very frustrating.


    I've never understood why most people have narrow feet, or shortened big toes. I go barefoot a lot, and observe that normal-footed people lack my ability to adjust their points of contact over uneven ground. See, with each foot having a three-point spread, any one point may be (unconsciously) lifted where the ground prickles - the remaining two points are probably heel plus one side behind the toes so you get a regular walking motion regardless of the occasional sharp pebble. What I'm calling "normal feet" are ones where the forward load is on an arc from side to side behind all five toes - I don't see such a foot able to favour one side or the other. I guess it's good for running over smooth prairies?
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    Northern Horse Whisperer Moderator scheherazade's Avatar
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    I realize that the topic is humans but just for comparison, a larger hoof is desirable in horses because it distributes the weight of the body over a larger area and reduces the potential for bruising and injury to the hoof. In addition, a medium or even slightly smaller bodied horse will most often prove to be both more nimble and more enduring. This greater efficiency reduces the amount of resources required by the horse.

    It is entirely possible that these benefits may also accrue to humans of smaller stature with relatively large feet.

    The following article may prove of interest to this discussion.

    They also found that the combined length of the bones in the big toes of sprinters was on average 6.2 percent longer than that of non-sprinters, while the length of another foot bone, the first metatarsal, was 4.3 percent longer for sprinters than for non-sprinters.
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  7. #6  
    who sees through things
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pong View Post
    I've never understood why most people have narrow feet, or shortened big toes. I go barefoot a lot, and observe that normal-footed people lack my ability to adjust their points of contact over uneven ground. See, with each foot having a three-point spread, any one point may be (unconsciously) lifted where the ground prickles - the remaining two points are probably heel plus one side behind the toes so you get a regular walking motion regardless of the occasional sharp pebble. What I'm calling "normal feet" are ones where the forward load is on an arc from side to side behind all five toes - I don't see such a foot able to favour one side or the other. I guess it's good for running over smooth prairies?
    Maybe in cultures where people have been wearing shoes or sandals for a very long time, the adaptive value of a certain type of foot shape is lost. Also, the type of foot covering can change how a child's foot develops. Look at Chinese foot binding. Re the Daily Mail article, maybe the sprinters had been training since they were very young and that affected how their feet developed. Or people who are born with feet suitable to sprinting are more likely to take it up as a sport than people who aren't. Newsflash! Jockeys are short.

    I don't know if the ability to squeeze into a small space when working would be considered a reproductive advantage. Unless plumbers and electricians are considered extra sexy.
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    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pong View Post
    [ I go barefoot a lot, and observe that normal-footed people lack my ability to adjust their points of contact over uneven ground.
    Apparently, a proportion of people have more flexible feet than usual: 1 in 13 people have bendy chimp-like feet - life - 30 May 2013 - New Scientist.

    Maybe that's you?
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  9. #8  
    Time Lord
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alec Bing View Post
    Maybe in cultures where people have been wearing shoes or sandals for a very long time, the adaptive value of a certain type of foot shape is lost.
    Yup, it's called a bunion. Results from people with longer big toes (I mean triangular feet), wearing the "fits all" shoes designed for rounded forefeet. Some in my family have suffered this condition; I avoid it by wearing weird Japanese shoes.

    Quote Originally Posted by Strange
    Apparently, a proportion of people have more flexible feet than usual...
    I don't know. The observation I can report is that feet with three well-spaced contact points adjust to uncomfortable ground without interrupting gait because weight may be favoured on one side or the other.
    Last edited by Pong; June 27th, 2013 at 05:13 AM.
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