Simulating the evolution of height in the Netherlands in recent history


The Dutch have a remarkable history when it comes to height. From being one of the shortest European populations in the 18th Century, the Dutch grew some 20 centimetres and are currently the tallest population in the world. Wealth, hygiene, and diet have all contributed to this increase in height. In addition, there is some research to suggest that natural selection also favours taller heights among the Dutch. Caution is warranted here, though, as this work is based only on phenotypic associations between people’s height and number of offspring in a contemporary population. As such, it can say little about the increase in height over the past centuries. It is also apparent that the response to selection of observed selection gradients could only minimally account for the increase in height. The calculation of such a response, however, involves making a range of assumptions on height across history that are and perhaps can never be verified. Simulation studies can help us here as they allow us to vary our assumptions and so verify their consequences. The aim of this research is to simulate the evolution of height in the Netherlands across the last two hundred years. Effects of the environment and the heritability of height will vary across time based on estimates from other studies. The strength of selection can be varied across men and women, as well as mating patterns that change the response to selection (e.g., assortative mating). By parametrising the model by observed heights across history, and by varying the strength of selection, we aim to get insight on plausible estimates of how much natural selection has contributed to the major increase in stature in the Netherlands. Only by using a combination of methods and insights from different disciplines, including biology, demography, and history are we potentially able to address how much of the increase in height is due natural selection and other causes.

Nijmegen, the Netherlands (online event)