Evol Ecol Res 4: 371-383 (2002)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

Latitudinal patterns and environmental determinants of recent human cultural diversity: do humans follow biogeographical rules?

Ian F. Collard* and Robert A. Foley

Department of Biological Anthropology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3DZ and King’s College Research Centre Human Diversity Project, King’s College, Cambridge, CB2 1ST, UK

Address correspondence to either author.
e-mail: ifc20@cam.ac.uk or raf10@cam.ac.uk


Biogeographers have noted many strong patterns in the diversity and distribution of animal and plant taxa. Human cultural diversity also exhibits strong geographical patterns. Here we analyse the global distribution of 3814 human cultures in relation to latitude and climatic parameters. The density and diversity of human cultures decline with latitude and increase with temperature and rainfall. Human cultures in tropical, wetter or warmer areas have smaller ranges and are more densely packed and differentiated. These relationships can be documented statistically in ways that parallel species diversity among other organisms. The global nature of these patterns implies ecological equilibrium independent of evolutionary history in different continents. This has implications for the interpretation of human genetic diversity, as well as for the understanding of processes of human cultural diversification and their relationship to evolutionary and ecological mechanisms.

Keywords: biogeography, cultural density, cultural diversity, human evolutionary ecology, latitudinal gradient.

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