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Does natural selection favour taller stature among the tallest people on earth?

The Dutch are the tallest people on earth. Over the last 200 years, they have grown 20 cm in height: a rapid rate of increase that points to environmental causes. This secular trend in height is echoed across all Western populations, but came to an end, or at least levelled off, much earlier than in The Netherlands. One possibility, then, is that natural selection acted congruently with these environmentally induced changes to further promote tall stature among the people of the lowlands. Using data from the LifeLines study, which follows a large sample of the population of the north of The Netherlands (n = 94 516), we examined how height was related to measures of reproductive success (as a proxy for fitness). Across three decades (1935-1967), height was consistently related to reproductive output (number of children born and number of surviving children), favouring taller men and average height women. This was despite a later age at first birth for taller individuals. Furthermore, even in this low-mortality population, taller women experienced higher child survival, which contributed positively to their increased reproductive success. Thus, natural selection in addition to good environmental conditions may help explain why the Dutch are so tall.
© 2015 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.

Keywords

LifeLines; The Netherlands; fertility; height; natural selection; reproductive success

year of publication

2015

journal

  • Proc Biol Sci.

author(s)

  • Stulp, G
  • Barrett, L
  • Tropf, FC
  • Mills, M.

full publication

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