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Keywords:

  • Denisova;
  • extinction;
  • Homo floresiensis;
  • human–chimp split;
  • human evolution;
  • molecular phylogeny;
  • speciation

Recent studies indicate that Neanderthal and Denisova hominins may have been separate species, while debate continues on the status of Homo floresiensis. The decade-long debate between “splitters,” who recognize over 20 hominin species, and “lumpers,” who maintain that all these fossils belong to just a few lineages, illustrates that we do not know how many extinct hominin species to expect. Here, we present probability distributions for the number of speciation events and the number of contemporary species along a branch of a phylogeny. With estimates of hominin speciation and extincton rates, we then show that the expected total number of extinct hominin species is 8, but may be as high as 27. We also show that it is highly unlikely that three very recent species disappeared due to natural, background extinction. This may indicate that human-like remains are too easily considered distinct species. Otherwise, the evidence suggesting that Neanderthal and the Denisova hominin represent distinct species implies a recent wave of extinctions, ostensibly driven by the only survivor, H. sapiens.