Ecogeographic patterns in fetal limb proportions

Erin B. Waxenbaum*, Michael W. Warren, Trenton W. Holliday, John E. Byrd, Theodore M. Cole

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: Humans generally comply with the ecological rule of Allen (1877), with populations from tropical environments exhibiting body proportions in which limb segments are long relative to trunk height compared to temperate groups. This study tests whether ecogeographic differences in intralimb proportions are identifiable among two modern fetal samples of differing ancestry. Materials and methods: Data are derived from radiographic measurements of long bone diaphyseal length and crown-heel length (CHL) of contemporary, spontaneously aborted fetuses of African Americans (“black”) of assumed African (tropical) ancestry and European Americans (“white”) of assumed European (temperate) ancestry (n = 184). Population individual limb elements, brachial, and crural indices are compared via analyses of covariance (ANCOVA). Potential patterns of divergent allometric growth are quantified through principal components analysis (PCA). Results: African ancestral distal limb elements were consistently, albeit slightly, longer than those of European ancestry, relative to CHL. None of the ANCOVA interactions with ancestry are statistically significant for limb indices. The radius was the only single element that displayed a statistically significant ancestry effect (p = 0.0435) equating to a 1 mm difference. PCA highlights that upper limbs demonstrate negative allometry and lower limbs demonstrate positive allometry with sample-specific multivariate growth patterns being nearly identical. Differences in growth allometry late in gestation make little contribution to observed differences in adult limb proportions. Discussion: No statistically significant ecogeographic patterns were appreciated among intralimb proportions between these groups during the fetal period. This study contributes to a greater appreciation of phenotypic plasticity, ecogeographic variation in ontogeny, and the evolution of modern human diversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)93-103
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2019


  • climatic adaptation
  • ecogeography
  • fetal
  • limb proportions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology


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