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Mayangna and Miskito - Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, Nicaragua

all pictures: © Debra Bardowicks


  • Principal investigator: Jeremy Koster
  • Site founded: 2004

Site details

The Mayangna and Miskito inhabit Central America’s largest rain forest. Their subsistence strategies combine swidden horticulture with hunting, seasonal fishing, and the raising of livestock. To earn money, residents frequently pan for gold in the streams surrounding the community. A minority of individuals hold salaried positions as schoolteachers. The inequality of material wealth is relatively high. Politically, land tenure is a chronic concern to residents because of unchecked incursions by non-indigenous colonists. Descent is traced bilaterally, and cooperative labor is organized around kinship. There is an uxorilocal bias in residence, which is oriented around nuclear families and flexible overall. Marriages are prescriptively monogamous. Divorce and remarriage are relatively common. Fertility is high, conventionally averaging over eight births per woman, but the recent introduction of hormonal contraception is altering reproductive strategies.


Research at this site focuses on the economic anthropology of resource production and distribution through social networks. The productivity of hunters and fishers is modeled as a as a function of their ages, ecological knowledge, and the complementary skills among members of foraging groups. Studies of food distributions address the decision to share within traditional kin networks that buffer risk or to sell resources for monetary gains via markets. Longitudinal research on time allocation focuses on the emergence of economic specializations among individuals and households. Demographic research and anthropometric data collection provide insights on the consequences of economic strategies and variation in wealth.

Selected Publications

Koster, Jeremy, and Richard McElreath. "Multinomial analysis of behavior: statistical methods." Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 71, no. 9 (2017): 138.

Koster, Jeremy. "Family ties: the multilevel effects of households and kinship on the networks of individuals." Royal Society Open Science 5, no. 4 (2018): 172159.

Scelza, Brooke A., Sean P. Prall, Tami Blumenfield, Alyssa N. Crittenden, Michael Gurven, Michelle Kline, Jeremy Koster et al. "Patterns of paternal investment predict cross-cultural variation in jealous response." Nature Human Behaviour (2019): 1-7.

Koster, Jeremy, Dieter Lukas, David Nolin, Eleanor Power, Alexandra Alvergne, Ruth Mace, Cody T. Ross et al. "Kinship ties across the lifespan in human communities." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 374, no. 1780 (2019): 20180069

Koster JM, Leckie G. 2014. Food sharing networks in lowland Nicaragua: an application of the social relations model to count data. Social Networks 38:100-110.

Koster JM, Grote MN, Winterhalder B. 2013. Effects on household labor of temporary out-migration by male household heads in Nicaragua and Peru: an analysis of spot-check time allocation data using mixed-effects models. Human Ecology 41:221-37.

Koster JM. 2008. Hunting with dogs in Nicaragua: an optimal foraging approach. Current Anthropology. 49:935-44.