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Abteilung für Verhaltensökologie

The Department of Human Behavior, Ecology and Culture investigates the role of culture in human evolution and adaptation. The primary goal is to theorize, design, and conduct longitudinal studies of human adaptation and cultural dynamics in ecological context. By integrating cross-cultural fieldwork with mathematical models and advanced quantitative methods, we hope to contribute to the interdisciplinary study of human evolution and human social dynamics.

Please see the Projects and Fieldwork links on the right for much more information.
 

News

Social integration predicts survival in female white-faced capuchin monkeys (3 June 2022)

Across multiple species of social mammals, a growing number of studies have found that individual sociality is associated with survival. In long-lived species, like primates, lifespan is one of the main components of fitness. We used 18 years of data from the Lomas Barbudal Monkey Project to quantify social integration in 11 capuchin (Cebus capucinus) groups and tested whether female survivorship was associated with females’ tendencies to interact with three types of partners: (1) all group members, (2) adult females, and (3) adult males. We found strong evidence that females who engaged more with other females in affiliative interactions and foraged in close proximity experienced increased survivorship. We found some weak evidence that females might also benefit from engaging in more support in agonistic contexts with other females. These benefits were evident in models that account for the females’ rank and group size. Female interactions with all group members also increased survival, but the estimates of the effects were more uncertain. In interactions with adult males, only females who provided more grooming to males survived longer. The results presented here suggest that social integration may result in survival-related benefits. Females might enjoy these benefits through exchanging grooming for other currencies, such as coalitionary support or tolerance. Read article here. (photograph by Susan Perry)

Forest income and livelihoods on Pemba: A quantitative ethnography (19 May 2022)

This paper offers a systematic approach to quantifying the socio-economic role of forests for 'forest-dependent' communities. Focusing on the island of Pemba (Zanzibar, Tanzania), we investigate how forest income contributes to livelihood portfolios, local inequality, and households' insurance against shocks. We also examine how forest income is affected by local institutions and household socio-demographics. We use a series of non-parametric measures in conjunction with multi-level Bayesian models supported by directed acyclic graphs to address these questions. On average, we find that 27% of household income comes from forests, with 83% of that value deriving from fuel products, and that 62% of the total value of forest products are harvested from the agroforestry scrub matrix. At the same time, forest income scales positively with income, forest-dependency scales negatively. Top income earners control ∼ 4 times more forest income than low earners. However, when we consider forestry against other economic sectors, forest income reduces overall income inequality on the island. Despite forests being critical for the poor, we find it offers little insurance against shocks, especially for the vulnerable. In fact, in contrast to expectations, we find that the well-insured are the most likely to increase forest use in response to shocks. Regarding institutions, most forest products come from either government land or land owned by other private individuals, indicating weak tenure institutions on the island. Finally, young, poorly educated male-headed households, which are not integrated into markets, are the most likely to have high forest income. However, female-headed households are generally more dependent due to a lack of alternative income sources. Our results are encouraging as the use of tools from formal causal inference and detailed Bayesian modelling, in conjunction with a quantitative ethnography, build upon previous findings while improving our understanding of local socio-ecological systems. Read article here.

Expanding the understanding of majority‑bias in children’s social learning (25 April 2022)

Prior experiments with children across seven different societies have indicated U‑shaped age patterns in the likelihood of copying majority demonstrations. It is unclear which learning strategies underlie the observed responses that create these patterns. Here we broaden the understanding of children’s learning strategies by: (1) exploring social learning patterns among 6–13‑year‑olds (n = 270) from ethnolinguistically varied communities in Vanuatu; (2) comparing these data with those reported from other societies (n = 629), and (3) re‑analysing our and previous data based on a theoretically plausible set of underlying strategies using Bayesian methods. We find higher rates of social learning in children from Vanuatu, a country with high linguistic and cultural diversity. Furthermore, our results provide statistical evidence for modest U‑shaped age patterns for a more clearly delineated majority learning strategy across the current and previously investigated societies, suggesting that the developmental mechanisms structuring majority bias are cross‑culturally highly recurrent and hence a fundamental feature of early human social learning. Read article here.

Coevolution of relative brain size and life expectancy in parrots (24 March 2022)

Previous studies have demonstrated a correlation between longevity and brain size in a variety of taxa. Little research has been devoted to understanding this link in parrots; yet parrots are well-known for both their exceptionally long lives and cognitive complexity. We employed a large-scale comparative analysis that investigated the influence of brain size and life-history variables on longevity in parrots. Specifically, we addressed two hypotheses for evolutionary drivers of longevity: the cognitive buffer hypothesis, which proposes that increased cognitive abilities enable longer lifespans, and the expensive brain hypothesis, which holds that increases in life-span are caused by prolonged developmental time of, and increased parental investment in, large-brained offspring. We estimated life expectancy from detailed zoo records for 133 818 individuals across 244 parrot species. Using a principled Bayesian approach that addresses data uncertainty and imputation of missing values, we found a consistent correlation between relative brain size and life expectancy in parrots. This correlation was best explained by a direct effect of relative brain size. Notably, we found no effects of developmental time, clutch size or age at first reproduction. Our results suggest that selection for enhanced cognitive abilities in parrots has in turn promoted longer lifespans. Read article here.

Effect of Anthropogenic Activities on the Population of Moor Macaques (Macaca maura) in South Sulawesi, Indonesia (22 February 2022)

Forest loss due to anthropogenic activities is one of the main causes of plant and animal species decline. Studying the species’ population status (i.e., density, abundance, and geographic distribution) on a regular basis is one of the main tools to assess the effect of anthropogenic activities on wildlife, to monitor population dynamics and to intervene with effective conservation strategies when the population of an endangered species declines. On Sulawesi Island, Indonesia, anthropogenic activities, such as agriculture, are decreasing the remaining natural habitats available for several endemic and endangered species. The effect of this forest loss on the threatened moor macaques (Macaca maura) in South Sulawesi is unknown, and data on the population status of this species are needed to design effective conservation strategies. To assess the population status of the moor macaques, we walked linear transects (N = 29, survey effort = 114 km) at six sites between November 2019 and March 2020 to estimate macaque population density and encounter rate. We tested the effect of anthropogenic activities on macaque encounter rate. Our global density estimate (24 individuals/km2) was lower than the overall estimate from the most detailed survey conducted on this species, which covered its whole geographic distribution (36.1 individuals/km 2). However, these results should be interpreted with caution because the previous density estimate falls within the confidence intervals of our estimate. Furthermore, we found regional declines in moor macaque encounter rates in at least two sites compared with previous studies. We found a high presence of anthropogenic activity in the forests inhabited by macaques. Moor macaques were less abundant in open areas with no forest (i.e., clear cuttings) than in forested areas, and in the presence of nonspecies-specific hunting traps (i.e., wire-loop traps). Moreover, moor macaques were more abundant in areas with a higher presence of humans and domestic animals. Overall, our data suggest that the population of this species may be declining in certain regions but further surveys are needed to corroborate whether this is occurring across the entire geographic distribution. Read article here.

Are the More Flexible Great-Tailed Grackles Also Better at Behavioral Inhibition? (1 February 2022)

Behavioral flexibility should, theoretically, be positively related to behavioral inhibition because one should need to inhibit a previously learned behavior to change their behavior when the task changes (flexibility). However, several investigations show no or mixed support of this hypothesis, which challenges the assumption that inhibition is involved in making flexible decisions. We tested the hypothesis that flexibility (reversal learning and solution switching on a multi-access box by Logan et al., 2022) is associated with inhibition (go/no go on a touchscreen and detour) by measuring all variables in the same individuals. Because touchscreen experiments had never been conducted in this species, we validated that they are functional for wild-caught grackles who learned to use it and completed go/no go on it. Performance on go/no go and detour tasks did not correlate, indicating they did not measure the same trait. Individuals who were faster to reverse took more time to attempt a new option on the multi-access box and were either faster or slower at go/no go depending on whether one individual, Taquito (accidentally tested beyond 200 trial cap), was included in the GLM. While the relationship between trials to reverse and trials to pass go/no go was strongly influenced by Taquito, the more comprehensive Bayesian flexibility model supported the positive relationship irrespective of whether Taquito was included. Performance on detour did not correlate with either flexibility measure, suggesting that they may measure separate traits. We conclude that flexibility is associated with certain types of inhibition, but not others, in great-tailed grackles. Read article here.

Investigating Sex Differences in Genetic Relatedness in Great-tailed Grackles in Tempe, Arizona to Infer Potential Sex Biases in Dispersal (1 February 2022)

In most bird species, females disperse prior to their first breeding attempt, while males remain close to the place they hatched. While explanations for such female bias in natal dispersal have focused on the resource-defense based monogamous mating system that is prevalent in most birds, the factors shaping dispersal decisions are often more complex. Studying species with different social and mating systems can help illuminate the various factors shaping sex biased dispersal. Here, we use genetic approaches to determine whether females and/or males disperse in great-tailed grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus), which have a mating system where the males hold breeding territories that multiple females might choose to place their nest in, but females forage independently of these breeding territories across a wider area. We find that for individuals caught at a single site in Arizona, (i) the average relatedness among all female dyads, but not of males, is higher than average relatedness among other individuals at the site; (ii) that female close relatives are found within shorter distances from each other than pairs of unrelated females, but male close relatives at larger distances than pairs of unrelated males; and (iii) we find a decline in relatedness with increasing spatial distances for females, but not for males. Our findings show that great-tailed grackles offer opportunities to understand how divergent social and mating systems might shape natal philopatry and dispersal, given their reversal of the usual sex-bias in dispersal with females associating with genetic relatives while males are not. Read article here.

Social hierarchies and social networks in humans (19 January 2022)

Across species, social hierarchies are often governed by dominance relations. In humans, where there are multiple culturally valued axes of distinction, social hierarchies can take a variety of forms and need not rest on dominance relations. Consequently, humans navigate multiple domains of status, i.e. relative standing. Importantly, while these hierarchies may be constructed from dyadic interactions, they are often more fundamentally guided by subjective peer evaluations and group perceptions. Researchers have typically focused on the distinct elements that shape individuals’ relative standing, with some emphasizing individual-level attributes and others outlining emergent macro-level structural outcomes. Here, we synthesize work across the social sciences to suggest that the dynamic interplay between individual-level and meso-level properties of the social networks in which individuals are embedded are crucial for understanding the diverse processes of status differentiation across groups. More specifically, we observe that humans not only navigate multiple social hierarchies at any given time but also simultaneously operate within multiple, overlapping social networks. There are important dynamic feedbacks between social hierarchies and the characteristics of social networks, as the types of social relationships, their structural properties, and the relative position of individuals within them both influence and are influenced by status differentiation.

This article is part of the theme issue ‘The centennial of the pecking order: current state and future prospects for the study of dominance hierarchies’. Read article here.

Do the more flexible individuals rely more on causal cognition? Observation versus intervention in causal inference in great-tailed grackles (1 December 2021)

Behavioral flexibility, the ability to change behavior when circumstances change based on learning from previous experience, is thought to play an important role in a species ability to successfully adapt to new environments and expand its geographic range. It is alternatively or additionally possible that causal cognition, the ability to understand relationships beyond their statistical covariations, could play a significant role in rapid range expansions via the ability to learn faster: causal cognition could lead to making better predictions about outcomes through exerting more control over events. We aim to determine whether great tailed grackles(Quiscalus mexicanus), a species that is rapidly expanding its geographic range, use causal inference and whether this ability relates to their behavioral flexibility (flexibility measured in these individuals by Logan  et al. (2019): reversal learning of a color discrimination and solution switching on a puzzle box). Causal cognition was measured using a touchscreen where individuals learned about the relationships between a star, a tone, a clicking noise, and food. They were then tested on their expectations about which of these causes the food to become available. We found that eight grackles showed no evidence of making causal inferences when given the opportunity to intervene on observed events using a touchscreen apparatus, and that performance on the causal cognition task did not correlate with behavioral flexibility measures. This could indicate that our test was inadequate to assess causal cognition. Because of this, we are unable to speculate about the potential role of causal cognition in a species that is rapidly expanding its geographic range. We suggest  further exploration of this hypothesis using larger sample sizes and multiple test paradigms. Read article here.

Chimpanzee vowel-like sounds and voice quality suggest formant space expansion through the hominoid lineage (30 November 2021)

The origins of human speech are obscure; it is still unclear what aspects are unique to our species or shared with our evolutionary cousins, in part due to a lack of a common framework for comparison. We asked what chimpanzee and human vocal production acoustics have in common. We examined visible supra-laryngeal articulators of four major chimpanzee vocalizations (hoos, grunts, barks, screams) and their associated acoustic structures, using techniques from human phonetic and animal communication analysis. Data were collected from wild adult chimpanzees, Taï National Park, Ivory Coast. Both discriminant and principal component classification procedures revealed classification of call types. Discriminating acoustic features include voice quality and formant structure, mirroring phonetic features in human speech. Chimpanzee lip and jaw articulation variables also offered similar discrimination of call types. Formant maps distinguished call types with different vowel-like sounds. Comparing our results with published primate data, humans show less F1 – F2 correlation and further expansion of the vowel space, particularly for [i] sounds. Unlike recent studies suggesting monkeys achieve human vowel space, we conclude from our results that supra-laryngeal articulatory capacities show moderate evolutionary change, with vowel space expansion continuing through hominoid evolution. Studies on more primate species will be required to substantiate this.

This article is part of the theme issue ‘Voice modulation: from origin and mechanism to social impact (Part II)’.  Read article here.

Limited Scope for Group Coordination in Stylistic Variations of Kolam Art (28 October 2021)

In large, complex societies, assorting with others with similar social norms or behaviors can facilitate successful coordination and cooperation. The ability to recognize others with shared norms or behaviors is thus assumed to be under selection. As a medium of communication, human art might reflect fitness-relevant information on shared norms and behaviors of other individuals thus facilitating successful coordination and cooperation. Distinctive styles or patterns of artistic design could signify migration history, different groups with a shared interaction history due to spatial proximity, as well as individual-level expertise and preferences. In addition, cultural boundaries may be even more pronounced in a highly diverse and socially stratified society. In the current study, we focus on a large corpus of an artistic tradition called kolam that is produced by women from Tamil Nadu in South India (N = 3, 139 kolam drawings from 192 women) to test whether stylistic variations in art can be mapped onto caste boundaries, migration and neighborhoods. Since the kolam art system with its sequential drawing decisions can be described by a Markov process, we characterize variation in styles of art due to different facets of an artist's identity and the group affiliations, via hierarchical Bayesian statistical models. Our results reveal that stylistic variations in kolam art only weakly map onto caste boundaries, neighborhoods, and regional origin. In fact, stylistic variations or patterns in art are dominated by artist-level variation and artist expertise. Our results illustrate that although art can be a medium of communication, it is not necessarily marked by group affiliation. Rather, artistic behavior in this context seems to be primarily a behavioral domain within which individuals carve out a unique niche for themselves to differentiate themselves from others. Our findings inform discussions on the evolutionary role of art for group coordination by encouraging researchers to use systematic methods to measure the mapping between specific objects or styles onto groups. Read article here.

Estimating the reproducibility of social learning research published between 1955 and 2018 (1 October 2021)

Reproducibility is integral to science, but difficult to achieve. Previous research has quantified low rates of data availability and results reproducibility across the biological and behavioural sciences. Here, we surveyed 560 empirical publications, published between 1955 and 2018 in the social learning literature, a research topic that spans animal behaviour, behavioural ecology, cultural evolution and evolutionary psychology. Data were recoverable online or through direct data requests for 30% of this sample. Data recovery declines exponentially with time since publication, halving every 6 years, and up to every 9 years for human experimental data. When data for a publication can be recovered, we estimate a high probability of subsequent data usability (87%), analytical clarity (97%) and agreement of published results with reproduced findings (96%). This corresponds to an overall rate of recovering data and reproducing results of 23%, largely driven by the unavailability or incompleteness of data. We thus outline clear measures to improve the reproducibility of research on the ecology and evolution of social behaviour. Read article here.

Reproductive consequences of material use in avian nest construction (30 September 2021)

Birds’ nests represent a rich behavioural ‘fingerprint’, comprising several important decisions—not the least of which is the selection of appropriate material. Material selection in nest-building birds is thought to reflect, in part, builder-birds’ use of the ‘best’ material—in terms of physical properties (e.g., rigidity)—refined across generations. There is, however, little experimental evidence to link the physical properties of nest material to both birds’ nest-building and breeding performance. We examined individual-level material-use consequences for breeding zebra finches by manipulating the kind of material available to laboratory-housed pairs: stiff or flexible same-length string. We show that higher fledgling numbers were related to: (i) fewer pieces used in nest construction by stiff-string builders; and conversely, (ii) more pieces used in nest construction by flexible-string builders. Together, these data suggest that physical differences in nest material can affect avian reproduction (here, the trade-off between nest-construction investment and fledgling success), highlighting the adaptive significance of nest-building birds’ material selectivity. Read article here.

APOE4 is associated with elevated blood lipids and lower levels of innate immune biomarkers in a tropical Amerindian subsistence population (29 September 2021)

In post-industrial settings, apolipoprotein E4 (APOE4) is associated with increased cardiovascular and neurological disease risk. However, the majority of human evolutionary history occurred in environments with higher pathogenic diversity and low cardiovascular risk. We hypothesize that in high-pathogen and energy-limited contexts, the APOE4 allele confers benefits by reducing innate inflammation when uninfected, while maintaining higher lipid levels that buffer costs of immune activation during infection. Among Tsimane forager-farmers of Bolivia (N = 1266, 50% female), APOE4 is associated with 30% lower C-reactive protein, and higher total cholesterol and oxidized LDL. Blood lipids were either not associated, or negatively associated with inflammatory biomarkers, except for associations of oxidized LDL and inflammation which were limited to obese adults. Further, APOE4 carriers maintain higher levels of total and LDL cholesterol at low body mass indices (BMIs). These results suggest that the relationship between APOE4 and lipids may be beneficial for pathogen-driven immune responses and unlikely to increase cardiovascular risk in an active subsistence population. Read article here.

How small-scale societies achieve large-scale cooperation (28 August 2021)

For most of our species’ history, humans have lived in relatively small subsistence communities, often called small-scale societies. While these groups lack centralized institutions, they can and often do maintain large-scale cooperation. Here, we explore several mechanisms promoting cooperation in small-scale societies, including (a) the development of social norms that encourage prosocial behavior, (b) reciprocal exchange relationships, (c) reputation that facilitates high-cost cooperation, (d) relational wealth, and (e) risk buffering institutions. We illustrate these with ethnographic and psychological evidence from contemporary small-scale societies. We argue that these mechanisms for cooperation helped past and present small-scale communities adapt to diverse ecological and social niches. Read article here.

DieTryin: An R package for data collection, automated data entry, and post-processing of network-structured economic games, social networks, and other roster-based dyadic data (2 August 2021)

Researchers studying social networks and inter-personal sentiments in bounded or small-scale communities face a trade-off between the use of roster-based and free-recall/name-generator-based survey tools. Roster-based methods scale poorly with sample size, and can more easily lead to respondent fatigue; however, they generally yield higher quality data that are less susceptible to recall bias and that require less post-processing. Name-generator-based methods, in contrast, scale well with sample size and are less likely to lead to respondent fatigue. However, they may be more sensitive to recall bias, and they entail a large amount of highly error-prone post-processing after data collection in order to link elicited names to unique identifiers. Here, we introduce an R package, DieTryin, that allows for roster-based dyadic data to be collected and entered as rapidly as name-generator-based data; DieTryin can be used to run network-structured economic games, as well as collect and process standard social network data and round-robin Likert-scale peer ratings. DieTryin automates photograph standardization, survey tool compilation, and data entry. We present a complete methodological workflow using DieTryin to teach end-users its full functionality. Read article here.

Animal culture research should include avian nest construction (14 July 2021)

Material culture—that is, group-shared and socially learned object-related behaviour(s)—is a widespread and diverse phenomenon in humans. For dec-ades, researchers have sought to confirm the existence of material culture in non-human animals; however, the main study systems of interest—namely, tool making and/or using non-human primates and corvids—cannot provide such confirmatory evidence: because long-standing ethical and logistical con-straints handicap the collection of necessary experimental data. Synthesizing evidence across decades and disciplines, here, I present a novel framework for (mechanistic, developmental, behavioural, and comparative) study on animal material culture: avian nest construction. Read full article here.

Explaining Cross-Cultural Variation in Mirror Self-Recognition: New Insights Into the Ontogeny of Objective Self-Awareness (25 June 2021)

Mirror self-recognition (MSR) is considered to be the benchmark of objective self-awareness—the ability to think about oneself. Cross-cultural research showed that there are systematic differences in toddlers’ MSR abilities between 18 and 24 months. Understanding whether these differences result from systematic variation in early social experiences will help us understand the processes through which objective self-awareness develops. In this study, we examined 57 18- to 22-month-old toddlers (31 girls) and their mothers from two distinct sociocultural contexts: urban Canada (58% of the subsample were Canadian-born native English-speakers) and rural Vanuatu, a small-scale island society located in the South Pacific. We had two main goals: (a) to identify the social-interactional correlates of MSR ability in this cross-cultural sample, and (b) to examine whether differences in passing rates could be attributed to confounding factors. Consistent with previous cross-cultural research, ni-Vanuatu toddlers passed the MSR test at significantly lower rates (7%) compared to their Canadian counterparts (68%). Among a suite of social interactive variables, only mothers’ imitation of their toddlers’ behavior during a free play session predicted MSR in the entire sample and maternal imitation partially mediated the effects of culture on MSR. In addition, low passing rates among ni-Vanuatu toddlers could not be attributed to reasons unrelated to self-development (i.e., motivation to show mark-directed behavior, understanding mirror-correspondence, representational thinking). This suggests that differences in MSR passing rates reflect true differences in self-recognition, and that parental imitation may have an important role in shaping the construction of visual self-knowledge in toddlers. Read full article here.

Coalitions and conflict: A longitudinal analysis of men’s politics (5 May 2021)

To negotiate conflict and navigate status hierarchy, individuals in many species form coalitions. We describe inter-personal conflicts and assess theories of coalition formation in a small-scale human society. Based on longitudinal and cross-sectional social network analysis of men in two communities of Tsimane forager–horticulturalists, we find evidence of reciprocity in coalitional support, as well as evi-dence of transitivity: an ally of my ally is likely to become my ally. We find mixed support for coalition formation between individuals who share a common adversary. Coalition formation was also predicted by food- and labour-sharing and especially by kinship. Physically formidable men and men higher in infor-mal status were more likely to provide coalitional support over time; evidence was mixed that they receive more coalitional support. The highest status men are hubs of a dense coalitional support network that indirectly link all men in the community. These findings suggest that male coalition formation is multiply motivated, and in general reveals the political dynamics that structure men’s lives in small, relatively egali-tarian communities. Read article here.

Children's fingernail cortisol among BaYaka foragers of the Congo Basin: associations with fathers' roles (3 May 2021)

Children and mothers’ cortisol production in response to family psychosocial conditions, including parenting demands, family resource availability and parental conflict, has been extensively studied in the United States and Europe. Less is known about how such family dynamics relate to family members' cortisol in societies with a strong cultural emphasis on cooperative caregiving. We studied a cumulative indicator of cortisol production, measured from fingernails, among BaYaka forager children (77 samples, n = 48 individuals) and their parents (78 samples, n = 49) in the Congo Basin. Men ranked one another according to locally valued roles for fathers, including providing resources for the family, sharing resources in the community and engaging in less marital conflict. Children had higher cortisol if their parents were ranked as having greater parental conflict, and their fathers were seen as less effective providers and less generous sharers of resources in the community. Children with lower triceps skinfold thickness (an indicator of energetic condition) also had higher cortisol. Parental cortisol was not significantly correlated to men's fathering rankings, including parental conflict. Our results indicate that even in a society in which caregiving is highly cooperative, children's cortisol production was nonetheless correlated to parental conflict as well as variation in locally defined fathering quality.

This article is part of the theme issue ‘Multidisciplinary perspectives on social support and maternal–child health’. Read article here.

Chest beats as an honest signal of body size in male mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) (8 April 2021)

Acoustic signals that reliably indicate body size, which usually determines competitive ability, are of particular interest for understanding how animals assess rivals and choose mates. Whereas body size tends to be negatively associated with formant dispersion in animal vocalizations, non-vocal signals have received little attention. Among the most emblematic sounds in the animal kingdom is the chest beat of gorillas, a non-vocal signal that is thought to be important in intra and inter-sexual competition, yet it is unclear whether it reliably indicates body size. We examined the relationship among body size (back breadth), peak frequency, and three temporal characteristics of the chest beat: duration, number of beats and beat rate from sound recordings of wild adult male mountain gorillas. Using linear mixed models, we found that larger males had significantly lower peak frequencies than smaller ones, but we found no consistent relationship between body size and the temporal characteristics measured. Taken together with earlier findings of positive correlations among male body size, dominance rank and reproductive success, we conclude that the gorilla chest beat is an honest signal of competitive ability. These results emphasize the potential of non-vocal signals to convey important information in mammal communication. Read article here.

A refitting experiment on long bone identification (13 March 2021

Refitting is an important analytical tool in archaeology that can yield valuable information on site formation processes and on the range of activities practiced at a site, including tool production, tool curation, and discard behavior, among others. In the present paper, we use refit data from a control assemblage of red deer (Cervus elaphus) long bones to assess problems of specimen identification and representation in an experiment where bones were processed for marrow. Three goals motivated this experiment: (i) to assess how different methods of NISP (number of identified specimens) calculation affect comparisons of the relative abundances of long bone regions, (ii) to evaluate whether long bone shaft regions vary with respect to the probability of identification, and (iii) to ascertain the potential refit rate for a well-preserved and fully-collected sample of faunal specimens. Our results show no statistical differences in terms of patterns of skeletal representation between the two methods of NISP calculation (single vs. multiple NISP counts) that we assessed. Our data also indicate that the shape, particularly the cross-section, of fragments clearly impacts the probability of identification and refitting. Moreover, the refitting experiment reveals that, in ideal conditions, a majority of specimens (>95%) from the NISP sample can be refitted, which leads to largely reconstructed skeletal elements. Thus, the comparatively very low refit rates recorded in archaeological sites, including samples that are well preserved, suggest that the often limited extent of excavations, along with offsite discard and/or extensive sharing of parts, substantially reduce the possibility of finding refits in a faunal sample. Read article here.

How can evolutionary and biological anthropologists engage broader audiences? (09 March 2021)

Objectives

With our diverse training, theoretical and empirical toolkits, and rich data, evolutionary and biological anthropologists (EBAs) have much to contribute to research and policy decisions about climate change and other pressing social issues. However, we remain largely absent from these critical, ongoing efforts. Here, we draw on the literature and our own experiences to make recommendations for how EBAs can engage broader audiences, including the communities with whom we collaborate, a more diverse population of students, researchers in other disciplines and the development sector, policymakers, and the general public. These recommendations include: (1) playing to our strength in longitudinal, place-based research, (2) collaborating more broadly, (3) engaging in greater public communication of science, (4) aligning our work with open-science practices to the extent possible, and (5) increasing diversity of our field and teams through intentional action, outreach, training, and mentorship.

Conclusions

We EBAs need to put ourselves out there: research and engagement are complementary, not opposed to each other. With the resources and workable examples we provide here, we hope to spur more EBAs to action. Read article here.

Entropy trade-offs in artistic design: A case study of Tamil kolam (1 March 2021)

From an evolutionary perspective, art presents many puzzles. Humans invest substantial effort in generating apparently useless displays that include artworks. These vary greatly from ordinary to intricate. From the perspective of signalling theory, these investments in highly complex artistic designs can reflect information about individuals and their social standing. Using a large corpus of kolam art from South India (N = 3139 kolam from 192 women), we test a number of hypotheses about the ways in which social stratification and individual differences affect the complexity of artistic designs. Consistent with evolutionary signalling theories of constrained optimisation, we find that kolam art tends to occupy a ‘sweet spot’ at which artistic complexity, as measured by Shannon information entropy, remains relatively constant from small to large drawings. This stability is maintained through an observable, apparently unconscious trade-off between two standard information-theoretic measures: richness and evenness. Although these drawings arise in a highly stratified, caste-based society, we do not find strong evidence that artistic complexity is influenced by the caste boundaries of Indian society. Rather, the trade-off is likely due to individual-level aesthetic preferences and differences in skill, dedication and time, as well as the fundamental constraints of human cognition and memory. Read article here.

The Potential to Infer the Historical Pattern of Cultural Macroevolution (1 March 2021)

Phylogenetic analyses increasingly take centre-stage in our understanding of the processes shaping patterns of cultural diversity and cultural evolution over time. Just as biologists explain the origins and maintenance of trait differences among organisms using phylogenetic methods, so anthropologists studying cultural macroevolutionary processes use phylogenetic methods to uncover the history of human populations and the dynamics of culturally transmitted traits. In this paper we revisit concerns with the validity of these methods. Specifically, we use simulations to reveal how properties of the sample (size, missing data), properties of the tree (shape), and properties of the traits (rate of change, number of variants, transmission mode) might influence the inferences that can be drawn about trait distributions across a given phylogeny and the power to discern alternative histories. Our approach shows that in two example datasets specific combinations of properties of the sample, of the tree, and of the trait can lead to potentially high rates of Type I and Type II errors. We offer this simulation tool to help assess the potential impact of this list of persistent perils in future cultural macroevolutionary work. Read full article here.

Taking charge and stepping in: Individuals who punish are rewarded with prestige and dominance (23 February 2021)

A hallmark of human societies is the scale at which we cooperate with many others, even when they are not closely genetically related to us. One proposed mechanism that helps explain why we cooperate is punishment; cooperation may pay and proliferate if those who free ride on the cooperation of others are punished. Yet this ‘solu-tion’ raises another puzzle of its own: Who will bear the costs of punishing? While the deterrence of free‐riders via punishment serves collective interests, presumably any single individual—who has no direct incentive to punish—is better off letting others pay the costs of punishment. However, emerging theory and evidence indicate that, while punishment may at times be a costly act, certain individuals are better able to ‘afford’ to pay the price of punishment and are often consequentially rewarded with fitness‐enhancing reputation benefits. Synthesizing across these latest lines of research, we propose a novel frame-work that considers how high status individuals—that is, individuals with greater prestige or dominance—enjoy lower punishment costs. These individuals are thus more willing to punish, and through their punitive action can in turn reap reputational rewards by further gaining more prestige or dominance. These reputational gains, which work in concert to promote the social success of punishers, recoup the costs of punishing. Together, these lines of work suggest that while punishment is often assumed to be altruistic, it need not always depend on altruism, and mo-tivations to punish may at times be self‐interested and driven (whether consciously or unconsciously) by reputa-tional benefits. Read article here.

Using touchscreen equipped operant chambers to study animal cognition. Benefits, limitations, and advice (19 February 2021)

Operant chambers are small enclosures used to test animal behavior and cognition. While traditionally reliant on simple technologies for presenting stimuli (e.g., lights and sounds) and recording responses made to basic manipulanda (e.g., levers and buttons), an increas-ing number of researchers are beginning to use Touchscreen-equipped Operant Chambers (TOCs). These TOCs have obvious advantages, namely by allowing researchers to present a near infinite number of visual stimuli as well as increased flexibility in the types of responses that can be made and recorded. We trained wild-caught adult and juvenile great-tailed grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus) to complete experiments using a TOC. We learned much from these efforts, and outline the advantages and disadvantages of our protocols. Our training data are summarized to quantify the variables that might influence participation and success, and we discuss important modifications to facilitate animal engagement and participation in various tasks. Finally, we provide a “training guide” for creating experiments using PsychoPy, a free and open-source software that was incredibly useful during these endeavors. This article, therefore, should serve as a resource to those interested in switch-ing to or maintaining a TOC, or who similarly wish to use a TOC to test the cognitive abilities of non-model species or wild-caught individuals. Read full article here.

Very Low Prevalence and Incidence of Atrial Fibrillation among Bolivian Forager-Farmers (16 February 2021)

Background: Atrial fibrillation is the most common arrhythmia in post-industrialized populations. Older age, hypertension, obesity, chronic inflammation, and diabetes are significant atrial fibrillation risk factors, suggesting that modern urban environments may promote atrial fibrillation.

Objective: Here we assess atrial fibrillation prevalence and incidence among tropical horticulturalists of the Bolivian Amazon with high levels of physical activity, a lean diet, and minimal coronary atherosclerosis, but also high infectious disease burden and associated inflammation.

Methods: Between 2005–2019, 1314 Tsimane aged 40–94 years (52% female) and 534 Moseten Amerindians aged 40–89 years (50% female) underwent resting 12-lead electrocardiograms to assess atrial fibrillation prevalence. For atrial fibrillation incidence assessment, 1059 (81% of original sample) Tsimane and 310 Moseten (58%) underwent additional ECGs (mean time to follow up 7.0, 1.8 years, respectively).

Findings:Only one (male) of 1314 Tsimane (0.076%) and one (male) of 534 Moseten (0.187%) demonstrated atrial fibrillation at baseline. There was one new (female) Tsimane case in 7395 risk years for the 1059 participants with >1 ECG (incidence rate = 0.14 per 1,000 risk years). No new cases were detected among Moseten, based on 542 risk years.

Conclusion: Tsimane and Moseten show the lowest levels of atrial fibrillation ever reported, 1/20 to ~1/6 of rates in high-income countries. These findings provide additional evidence that a subsistence lifestyle with high levels of physical activity, and a diet low in processed carbohydrates and fat is cardioprotective, despite frequent infection-induced inflammation. Findings suggest that atrial fibrillation is a modifiable lifestyle disease rather than an inevitable feature of cardiovascular aging. Read article here.

Manipulative and Technological Skills Do Not Require a Slow Life History (9 February 2021)

A recent developmental study reveals that—at least in primates—a slow life history might be a prerequisite for skilled manipulation and technological behavior. This supposition, however, demands critical evaluation because other taxa with a much shorter lifespan also exhibit dexterous object handling and material technology. By examining object-handling and nest-building data from, respectively, mice and birds, we show that a slow life history does not govern the evolution of manipulative and technological ability. More generally, we highlight the need for a comparative, cross-taxa approach to understand drivers—such as differences in life history, ecology, task complexity, and brain size—of seemingly sophisticated behavior. Read article here.

Demonstrating the Utility of Egocentric Relational Event Modeling Using Focal Follow Data from Congolese BaYaka Children and Adolescents Engaging in Work and Play (20 January 2021)

Temporal aspects of child and adolescent time allocation in diverse cultural settings have been difficult to model using conventional statistical techniques. A new statistical approach, Egocentric Relational Event Modelling (EREM), allows for the simultaneous modelling of activity frequency, duration, and sequencing. Here, EREM is applied to a focal follow dataset of Congolese BaYaka forager child and adolescent play and work activities. Results show that, as children age, they engage in less frequent and extended play bouts and more frequent and extended work bouts. Bout frequency and duration were a more sensitive measure for early sex differences than overall time allocation. Sequential patterns of work and play suggest that these activities have short-term energetic trade-offs. This article demonstrates that EREM can reveal stable and variable patterns in child development.

Observational studies of children’s time allocation demonstrate that age, sex, family circumstance, and culture influence activity budgets (Blurton Jones 1972; Bock and Johnson 2004; Gosso 2010; Munroe et al. 1984; Whiting and Whiting 1975). However, temporal aspects of behavior have been difficult to model using conventional statistical techniques. Here, we demonstrate the applicability of the Egocentric Relational Event Model (EREM) using a focal follow dataset of BaYaka child and adolescent play and work activities (Butts 2008; Marcum and Butts 2015). While EREM is not the only statistical framework to accommodate sequential data, it is unique in the flexibility with which it can simultaneously model the probability and duration of multiple events. Read article here.

Socialization, Autonomy, and Cooperation: Insights from Task Assignment Among the Egalitarian BaYaka (20 January 2021)

Across diverse societies, task assignment is a socialization practice that gradually builds children's instrumental skills and integrates them into the flow of daily activities in their community. However, psychosocial tensions can arise when cooperation is demanded from children. Through their compliance or noncompliance, they learn cultural norms and values related to autonomy and obligations to others. Here, we investigate task assignment among BaYaka foragers of the Republic of the Congo, among whom individual autonomy is a foundational cultural schema. Our analysis is based on systematic observations, participant observation, and informal interviews with adults about their perspectives on children's learning and noncompliance, as well as their own learning experiences growing up. We find that children are assigned fewer tasks as they age. However, children's rate of noncompliance remains steady across childhood, indicating an early internalization of a core value for autonomy. Despite demonstrating some frustration with children's noncompliance, adults endorse their autonomy and remember task assignment being critical to their own learning as children. We argue that cross-cultural variation in children's compliance with task assignments must be understood within a larger framework of socialization as constituted by many integrated and bidirectional processes embedded in a social, ecological, and cultural context. Read article here.

Local convergence of behavior across species (15 January 2021)

Behavior is a way for organisms to respond flexibly to the environmental conditions they encounter. Our own species occurs in a variety of habits, sharing these with a large number of other species, but it remains unclear to what degree a shared environment constrains behavior. Here, we show that foraging human populations and non-human mammal and bird species who live in a given environment show high levels of similarity in their foraging, reproductive, and social behavior. Our findings suggest that local conditions may select for similar behaviors in both humans and non-human animals. Read full article here.

Human behavioral ecology and niche construction (7 January 2021)

We examine the relationship between niche construction theory (NCT) and human behavioral ecology (HBE), two branches of evolutionary science that are important sources of theory in archeology. We distinguish between formal models of niche con-struction as an evolutionary process, and uses of niche construction to refer to a kind of human behavior. Formal models from NCT examine how environmental modifica-tion can change the selection pressures that organisms face. In contrast, formal models from HBE predict behavior assuming people behave adaptively in their local setting, and can be used to predict when and why people engage in niche construction. We emphasize that HBE as a field is much broader than foraging theory and can incorpo-rate social and cultural influences on decision-making. We demonstrate how these approaches can be formally incorporated in a multi-inheritance framework for evolu-tionary research, and argue that archeologists can best contribute to evolutionary the-ory by building and testing models that flexibly incorporate HBE and NCT elements. Read article here.