Evidence for evolution in response to natural selection in a contemporary human population

Emmanuel Milot, Francine M. Mayer, Daniel H. Nussey, Mireille Boisvert, Fanie Pelletier, Denis Reale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is often claimed that modern humans have stopped evolving because cultural and technological advancements have annihilated natural selection. In contrast, recent studies show that selection can be strong in contemporary populations. However, detecting a response to selection is particularly challenging; previous evidence from wild animals has been criticized for both applying anticonservative statistical tests and failing to consider random genetic drift. Here we study life-history variation in an insular preindustrial French-Canadian population and apply a recently proposed conservative approach to testing microevolutionary responses to selection. As reported for other such societies, natural selection favored an earlier age at first reproduction (AFR) among women. AFR was also highly heritable and genetically correlated to fitness, predicting a microevolutionary change toward earlier reproduction. In agreement with this prediction, AFR declined from about 26-22 y over a 140-y period. Crucially, we uncovered a substantial change in the breeding values for this trait, indicating that the change in AFR largely occurred at the genetic level. Moreover, the genetic trend was higher than expected under the effect of random genetic drift alone. Our results show that microevolution can be detectable over relatively few generations in humans and underscore the need for studies of human demography and reproductive ecology to consider the role of evolutionary processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17040-17045
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number41
Publication statusPublished - 11 Oct 2011


  • reproductive timing
  • heritability
  • Homo sapiens
  • life-history traits
  • lifetime reproductive success

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