Darwin Evolving: Distinguished Naturalists

Dr. Nina Jablonski May 20, 2009

Nina Jablonski

"The Evolution of Human Skin Pigmentation"

Skin color is one of the most obvious ways in which people vary and has been used in the past as a basis for the biological classification of humans. Skin pigmentation is a biological adaptation that regulates the penetration of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) into the skin. Through evolution by natural selection, levels of skin pigmentation have been "fine-tuned" to UVR regimes so as to protect against the breakdown of UVR-sensitive compounds while permitting the penetration of sufficient UVR into the skin to initiate production of vitamin D. Similar skin colors have evolved independently numerous times as humans have dispersed to diverse places with similar UVR regimes. Skin pigmentation in humans is an excellent example of an evolutionary compromise, and is one of the best examples of evolution by natural selection acting on members of the human lineage.


Professor and Head of the Department of Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University, Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, recipient of 2005 Alphonse Fletcher, Sr. Fellowship Awards in recognition of her groundbreaking research on the evolution of human skin color. Dr Jablonski is an expert on primate and human evolution with a focus on the impact of changing environments on their adaptations. Her recent book entitled Skin: A Natural History (2007) was awarded the W.W. Howells Book Award of the American Anthropological Association.