VAN DAMME, R.; WILSON, R.S.; Univ. of Antwerp, Belgium; Univ. of Queensland, Australia: Human athletes and the evolution of vertebrate locomotor performance
It is generally believed that phenotypic evolution is constrained by the conflicting design demands posed by different performance traits. For instance, speed and endurance capacity cannot be maximised simultaneously, because they rely on opposite muscle characteristics. Surprisingly, there is very little empirical evidence to support the idea of evolutionary trade-offs between performance traits. In general, studies on animals find no, or even positive, relationships between performance traits, even when physiological or biomechanical theory predicts that these traits should be in conflict. Another classic tenet in evolutionary ecology is that a generalist phenotype cannot excel in any particular function (i.e., a jack of all traits is a master of none). The principle has equally little empirical support. Here, we use the extensive data available on human athletic performance to test these two principles. In particular, we focussed on results from sports in which the opponents must compete in a number of events requiring different capacities or skills (e.g. decathlon, heptathlon, all round skating). We show that trade-offs among traits do exist, but can be masked by differences in general quality among individuals. We also present evidence for the jack-of-all trades assumption.