The evolution, form and function of the human respiratory system.


Markus Bastir; Daniel Sanz Prieto; José María López Rey; Carlos A. Palancar; Marta Gómez Recio; Miguel López Cano; José María González Ruíz; Alejandro Pérez Ramos; Manuel A. Burgos; Benoit Beyer; Daniel García Martínez.


30 December 2022


Journal of Anthropological Sciences

doi: 10.4436/JASS.10014


This paper presents an updated view on the morphological and functional significance of the human respiratory system in the context of human evolutionary anatomy. While usually the respiratory system is treated either from a craniofacial perspective, mostly in the context of nasal evolution and air-conditioning, or from a postcranial perspective featuring on overall thoracic shape changes, here we pursue a holistic perspective on the form, function, integration, and evolutionary change of the entire organismal system in hominins. We first present a brief review of the most important morphological structures, their function, and its potential integration and interaction with the nasal cavity and thoracic skeleton. This is followed by an overview of the most important improvements in methods for the comparative study in recent humans and fossil hominins. We then overview and list a compendium of hominin fossil material currently available for the study. We propose four functional categories of hominin respiratory system configurations that differ potentially with respect to size, shape, biomechanics and/or bioenergetics. Finally, we discuss these and speculate on possible ways for future research into an anatomical system that, despite its under-investigated status, is central to the understanding of the form and functions of the hominin organism and its paleobiology.

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