Friday, February 13, 2009


The first draft of the abstract of a first chapter of my thesis! None of this will survive the editing process.

Human females have the unusual life-history trait of frequently surviving well past their reproductively fertile period. While a variety of adaptive hypotheses have been proposed to explain this trait, some authors argue that post-reproductive lifespan (PRL) is a phylogenetically widespread trait, requiring no special adaptive explanation for humans. Still others have argued that PRL is the result of cultural and physiological traits, not adaptive evolution. We suggest that the continued confusion on this front arises from two primary sources, the treatment of non-alternative hypotheses as mutually exclusive, and the use of PRL, an inconsistently calculated and theoretically ill-suited parameter. Given the drawbacks of PRL as a comparative measure, a variety of more useful and comparable measures of post-reproductive survival (PRS) can be calculated using data in the form of standard demographic life tables. Using life tables from 20 human populations, 78 non-human primate populations and two non-primate species, we present a set of measures of PRS which allow for direct comparability between populations and to evolutionary null hypotheses. We find strong support for the uniqueness of the scale of human PRS, for the widespread presence of PRS in primates and for the influence of culture in extending PRS.

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