The Evolutionary History of Human Skin Pigmentation

Abstract

Skin pigmentation is a complex, conspicuous, highly variable human trait that exhibits a remarkable correlation with latitude. The evolutionary history and genetic basis of skin color variation has been the subject of intense research in the last years. This article reviews the major hypotheses explaining skin color diversity and explores the implications of recent findings about the genes associated with skin pigmentation for understanding the evolutionary forces that have shaped the current patterns of skin color variation. A major aspect of these findings is that the genetic basis of skin color is less simple than previously thought and that geographic variation in skin pigmentation was influenced by the concerted action of different types of natural selection, rather than just by selective sweeps in a few key genes.

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Acknowledgements

I thank Anne-Maria Fehn for her comments and suggestions, and for her help in compiling the bibliography and preparing the figures. I would like also to thank two anonymous reviewers, whose comments helped to improve the initial version of this article. My own research in skin color was supported by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT; PTDC/BIA-BDE/64044/2006).

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Correspondence to Jorge Rocha.

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Handling Editor: Konstantinos Voskarides.

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Rocha, J. The Evolutionary History of Human Skin Pigmentation. J Mol Evol 88, 77–87 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00239-019-09902-7

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Keywords

  • Skin pigmentation
  • Evolution
  • Natural selection
  • Complex traits