Both modern humans (MHs) and Neanderthals successfully settled across western Eurasian cold-climate landscapes. Among the many adaptations considered as essential to survival in such landscapes, changes in the nasal morphology and/or function aimed to humidify and warm the air before it reaches the lungs are of key importance. Unfortunately, the lack of soft-tissue evidence in the fossil record turns difficult any comparative study of respiratory performance. Here, we reconstruct the internal nasal cavity of a Neanderthal plus two representatives of climatically divergent MH populations (southwestern Europeans and northeastern Asians). The reconstruction includes mucosa distribution enabling a realistic simulation of the breathing cycle in different climatic conditions via computational fluid dynamics. Striking across-specimens differences in fluid residence times affecting humidification and warming performance at the anterior tract were found under cold/dry climate simulations. Specifically, the Asian model achieves a rapid air conditioning, followed by the Neanderthals, whereas the European model attains a proper conditioning only around the medium-posterior tract. In addition, quantitative-genetic evolutionary analyses of nasal morphology provided signals of stabilizing selection for MH populations, with the removal of Arctic populations turning covariation patterns compatible with evolution by genetic drift. Both results indicate that, departing from important craniofacial differences existing among Neanderthals and MHs, an advantageous species-specific respiratory performance in cold climates may have occurred in both species. Fluid dynamics and evolutionary biology independently provided evidence of nasal evolution, suggesting that adaptive explanations regarding complex functional phenotypes require interdisciplinary approaches aimed to quantify both performance and evolutionary signals on covariation patterns.
Spring sea ice phenology regulates the timing of the two consecutive pulses of marine autotrophs that form the base of the Arctic marine food webs. This timing has been suggested to be the single most essential driver of secondary production and the efficiency with which biomass and energy are transferred to higher trophic levels. We investigated the chronological sequence of productivity pulses and its potential cascading impacts on the reproductive performance of the High Arctic seabird community from Svalbard, Norway. We provide evidence that interannual changes in the seasonal patterns of marine productivity may impact the breeding performance of little auks and Brünnich's guillemots. These results may be of particular interest given that current global warming trends in the Barents Sea region predict one of the highest rates of sea ice loss within the circumpolar Arctic. However, local- to regional-scale heterogeneity in sea ice melting phenology may add uncertainty to predictions of climate-driven environmental impacts on seabirds. Indeed, our fine-scale analysis reveals that the inshore Brünnich's guillemots are facing a slower advancement in the timing of ice melt compared to the offshore-foraging little auks. We provide a suitable framework for analyzing the effects of climate-driven sea ice disappearance on seabird fitness.