Humans are going to evolve to have webbed feet and hands, and maybe a set of gills as a result of sea level rising – or that is according to the predictions of a paleoanthropologist. But the truth is probably less extreme.
Reports of how we will adapt to climate change emerged earlier this week. Matthew Skinner, from the University of Kent, made the claims ahead of the launch of Syfy's Extant Season 2. He made predictions for three different scenarios – a water world where sea levels have risen, a second ice age as a result of an asteroid strike and if humans colonised other planets.
Of the first, he said: "Regular underwater foraging would lead to the evolution of longer fingers and toes which would then likely develop 'webbed' interconnecting skin to enable easier swimming. We may evolve a tapetum lucidum, an additional layer in the retina, like cat's eyes, that would improve our vision in low light conditions such as underwater. Due to the cold environment of being submerged in water regularly, we would maintain a layer of 'baby fat' into adulthood as an insulator."
In the ice age scenario, he said we would probably get hairier, more muscly and paler so we can absorb more vitamin D from less sunlight. If we were to colonise another planet, he predicts we would develop, longer arms, shorter legs and opposable big toes that would allow us to grip in weightless environments.
While Skinner's predictions were just a bit of fun, the reality of how we will adapt to new climates is not so clear. Evolutionary biologist Nick Colegrave, from the University of Edinburgh, told IBTimes UK: "It is true that whenever a species experiences changed selection pressures we expect natural selection to act and over time to change the characteristics of that species. Human changes in response to climate change are no different.
"However detailed predictions of what kinds of adaptations will appear is notoriously tricky, and the comments made in the article appear as speculation rather than being based on any real theory. As for the specific prediction about webbed feet, it is true that humans could evolve webbed feet if appropriate genetic variation were available and they provided a selective advantage, but they could equally evolve a whole different set of solutions ... or more likely simply put on a pair of flippers."