Saturday, October 18, 2008

What I've been working on

Here is the last bit of my post-doc fellowship application:

Summary and Conclusion:
Evolutionary Biodemography has focused on explaining late-life mortality patterns and overall longevity. The evolutionary basis of early-life mortality has been studied more rarely and less systematically. My proposal boils down to four basic steps intended to firmly establish the field of early-life evolutionary biodemography:
1. Mathematically define and parameterize the age specific mortality patterns that characterize Human-like Early-life Mortality (HEM).
2. Compile, review and organize those evolutionary hypotheses potentially explaining HEM.
3. Use these hypotheses to predict life-history traits that may be necessary causative factors of HEM, and thereby predict which taxonomic groups are not subject to HEM.
4. Gather data to determine in what species or populations, if any, HEM does not occur, thereby testing my collection of evolutionary hypotheses.
Early life mortality has a tremendous effect on a wide range of populations, and our failure to date to understand its evolutionary basis is a major gap in our understanding of both evolution and demography. Working at MPIDR, I will begin to fill that gap.


jte said...

I have a pet hypothesis that young children's propensity to try to eat anything they can get into their mouths serves the (group) evolutionary purpose of revealing previously unknown food sources while risking the well-being of a member of the group for whom relatively little resources have been spent.

Dan Levitis said...

This is, as you point out, a group selection hypothesis. It could be modified in some way to be more of a kin selection hypothesis (and therefore easier to swallow) but having an otherwise viable toddler kill herself eating something that the group probably already knew was poisonous doesn't sound that good for the family to me.
Color me dubious.