Male Life History, Reproductive Effort, and the Evolution of the Genus Homo: New Directions and Perspectives

Richard G. Bribiescas, Peter T. Ellison and Peter B. Gray
Current Anthropology
Vol. 53, No. S6, Human Biology and the Origins of Homo (December 2012), pp. S424-S435
DOI: 10.1086/667538
Stable URL:
Page Count: 12
  • Download PDF
  • Cite this Item

You are not currently logged in.

Access your personal account or get JSTOR access through your library or other institution:


Log in to your personal account or through your institution.

Male Life History, Reproductive Effort, and the Evolution of the Genus Homo
We're having trouble loading this content. Download PDF instead.


The evolution of male life history traits was central to the emergence of the genus Homo. Compared with earlier hominins, changes in the behavioral and physiological mechanics of growth, survivorship, reproductive effort, and senescence all likely contributed to shifts in how males contributed to the evolution of our genus. For example, the range of paternal investment in modern Homo sapiens is unusual compared with most mammals and primates, all but certainly contributing to the evolution of the suite of life history traits that define Homo, including high fertility, large bodies, altricial offspring, large brains, and long lives. Moreover, the extensive range of phenotypic and behavioral variation in somatic and behavioral reflections of male reproductive effort across modern H. sapiens is especially noteworthy. We propose that selection for a broad range of variation in traits reflective of male reproductive effort was important to the evolution of Homo. We examine factors that contribute to this variation, proposing that selection for paternal and somatic investment plasticity across the entire male life span was important for the evolution of Homo. Potential research strategies and directions for new research for exploring these issues in the fossil record are also discussed.

Notes and References

This item contains 111 references.

References Cited
  • ['Aiello, Leslie C., and Cathy Key. 2002. Energetic consequences of being a Homo erectus female. American Journal of Human Biology 14:551–565.']
  • ['Aiello, Leslie C., and Jonathan C. K. Wells. 2002. Energetics and the evolution of the genus Homo. Annual Review of Anthropology 31:323–338.']
  • ['Anderson, Kermyt G., Hillard Kaplan, David Lam, and Jane Lancaster. 1999. Paternal care by genetic fathers and stepfathers. 2. Reports by Xhosa high school students. Evolution and Human Behavior 20:433–451.']
  • ['Anderson, Kermyt G., Hillard Kaplan, and Jane Lancaster. 1999. Paternal care by genetic fathers and stepfathers. 1. Reports from Albuquerque men. Evolution and Human Behavior 20:405–431.']
  • ['Antón, Susan C., and J. Josh Snodgrass. 2012. Origins and evolution of genus Homo: new perspectives. Current Anthropology 53(suppl. 6):S479–S496.']
  • ['Asara, John M., Mary H. Schweitzer, Lisa M. Freimark, Matthew Phillips, and Lewis C. Cantley. 2007. Protein sequences from mastodon and Tyrannosaurus rex revealed by mass spectrometry. Science 316:280–285.']
  • ['Austin, Jeremy J., Andrew B. Smith, and Richard H. Thomas. 1997. Palaeontology in a molecular world: the search for authentic ancient DNA. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 12:303–306.']
  • ['Bateman, Angus J. 1948. Intra-sexual selection in Drosophila. Heredity 2:349–368.']
  • ['Bentley, Gillian R., and Ruth Mace. 2009. Substitute parents: biological and social perspective on alloparenting across human societies. Studies of the Biosocial Society, vol. 3. New York: Berghahn.']
  • ['Bribiescas, Richard G. 1996. Testosterone levels among Aché hunter/gatherer men: a functional interpretation of population variation among adult males. Human Nature 7:163–188.']
  • ['———. 2001. Reproductive ecology and life history of the human male. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 44:148–176.']
  • ['———. 2005. Age-related differences in serum gonadotropin (FSH and LH), salivary testosterone, and 17-β estradiol levels among Ache Amerindian males of Paraguay. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 127:114–121.']
  • ['———. 2006. On the evolution of human male reproductive senescence: proximate mechanisms and life history strategies. Evolutionary Anthropology 15:132–141.']
  • ['———. 2010. An evolutionary and life history perspective on human male reproductive senescence. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1204:54–64.']
  • ['Bribiescas, Richard G., and Peter T. Ellison. 2007. How hormones mediate trade-offs in human health and disease. In Evolution in health and disease. Stephen C. Stearns and Jacob C. Koella, eds. Pp. 77–93. Oxford: Oxford University Press.']
  • ['Bribiescas, Richard G., and Kim R. Hill. 2010. Circadian variation in salivary testosterone across age classes in Ache Amerindian males of Paraguay. American Journal of Human Biology 22:216–220.']
  • ['Brown, Frank, John Harris, Richard Leakey, and Alan Walker. 1985. Early Homo erectus skeleton from west Lake Turkana, Kenya. Nature 316:788–792.']
  • ['Buss, David M. 1989. Sex differences in human mate preferences: evolutionary hypotheses tested in 37 cultures. Behavioural and Brain Sciences 12:1–49.']
  • ['Busse, Curt D. 1985. Paternity recognition in multi-male primate groups. American Zoologist 25:873–881.']
  • ['Calow, Peter. 1979. The cost of reproduction: a physiological approach. Biological Reviews 54:23–40.']
  • ['Catlett, Kierstin K., Gary T. Schwartz, Laurie R. Godfrey, and William L. Jungers. 2010. “Life history space”: a multivariate analysis of life history variation in extant and extinct Malagasy lemurs. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 142:391–404.']
  • ['Charlesworth, Brian. 2001. Patterns of age-specific means and genetic variances of mortality rates predicted by the mutation-accumulation theory of ageing. Journal of Theoretical Biology 210:47–65.']
  • ['Clutton-Brock, Timothy H. 1984. Reproductive effort and terminal investment in iteroparous animals. American Naturalist 123:212–229.']
  • ['Colvard, Douglas S., Erik F. Eriksen, Philip E. Keeting, Elizabeth M. Wilson, Dennis B. Lubahn, Frank S. French, B. Lawrence Riggs, and Thomas C. Spelsberg. 1989. Identification of androgen receptors in normal human osteoblast-like cells. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 86:854–857.']
  • ['Copeland, Sandi R., Matt Sponheimer, Darryl J. de Ruiter, Julia A. Lee-Thorp, Daryl Codron, Petrus J. le Roux, Vaughn Grimes, and Michael P. Richards. 2011. Strontium isotope evidence for landscape use by early hominins. Nature 474:76–78.']
  • ['Coqueugniot, Hélène, Jean-Jacques Hublin, Francis Veillon, Francis Houët, and Teuku Jacob. 2004. Early brain growth in Homo erectus and implications for cognitive ability. Nature 431:299–302.']
  • ['Crews, Douglas E., and Linda M. Gerber. 2003. Reconstructing life history of hominids and humans. Collegium Antropologicum 27:7–22.']
  • ['Cronk, Lee. 1991. Wealth, status, and reproductive success among the Mukogodo of Kenya. American Anthropologist 93:345–360.']
  • ['Dahinten, Silvia L., and Hector M. Pucciarelli. 1986. Variations in sexual dimorphism in the skulls of rats subjected to malnutrition, castration, and treatment with gonadal hormones. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 71:63–67.']
  • ['Daly, Martin, and Margo Wilson. 1999. The truth about Cinderella: a Darwinian view of parental love. Darwinism Today. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.']
  • ['Dean, Christopher, Meave G. Leakey, Donald Reid, Friedemann Schrenk, Gary T. Schwartz, Christopher Stringer, and Alan Walker. 2001. Growth processes in teeth distinguish modern humans from Homo erectus and earlier hominins. Nature 414:628–631.']
  • ['de La Rochebrochard, Elise, Jacques de Mouzon, François Thepot, and Patrick Thonneau. 2006. Fathers over 40 and increased failure to conceive: the lessons of in vitro fertilization in France. Fertility and Sterility 85:1420–1424.']
  • ['Dixson, Alan F. 1987. Baculum length and copulatory behavior in primates. American Journal of Primatology 13:51–60.']
  • ['Eisenberg, Dan T. 2011. An evolutionary review of human telomere biology: the thrifty telomere hypothesis and notes on potential adaptive paternal effects. American Journal of Human Biology 23:149–167.']
  • ['Ellison, Peter T. 1982. Skeletal growth, fatness and menarcheal age: a comparison of two hypotheses. Human Biology 54:269–281.']
  • ['———. 2003. Energetics and reproductive effort. American Journal of Human Biology 15:342–351.']
  • ['Ellison, Peter T., Richard G. Bribiescas, Gillian R. Bentley, Benjamin C. Campbell, Susan F. Lipson, Catherine Panter-Brick, and Kim Hill. 2002. Population variation in age-related decline in male salivary testosterone. Human Reproduction 17:3251–3253.']
  • ['Finlayson, Clive. 2005. Biogeography and evolution of the genus Homo. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 20:457–463.']
  • ['Flinn, Mark V. 1988. Stepparent and genetic parent offspring relationships in a Caribbean village. Ethology and Sociobiology 9:335–369.']
  • ['Fouts, Hillary N. 2008. Father involvement with young children among the Aka and Bofi foragers. Cross-Cultural Research 42:290–312.']
  • ['Fujita, Takako, J. Ohtani, M. Shigekawa, T. Kawata, M. Kaku, S. Kohno, K. Tsutsui, et al. 2004. Effects of sex hormone disturbances on craniofacial growth in newborn mice. Journal of Dental Research 83:250–254.']
  • ['Gadgil, Madhav, and William Bossert. 1970. Life history consequences of natural selection. American Naturalist 104:1–24.']
  • ['Gauthier, Anne H., Timothy M. Smeeding, and Frank F. Furstenberg. 2004. Are parents investing less time in children? trends in selected industrialized countries. Population and Development Review 30:647–671.']
  • ['Gettler, Lee T. 2010. Direct male care and hominin evolution: why male-child interaction is more than a nice social idea. American Anthropologist 112:7–21.']
  • ['Gettler, Lee T., Thomas W. McDade, Alan B. Feranil, and Christopher W. Kuzawa. 2011. Longitudinal evidence that fatherhood decreases testosterone in human males. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 108(39):16194–16199, doi:10.1073/pnas.1105403108.']
  • ['Graves, Ronda R., Amy C. Lupo, Robert C. McCarthy, Daniel J. Wescott, and Deborah L. Cunningham. 2010. Just how strapping was KNM-WT 15000? Journal of Human Evolution 59:542–554.']
  • ['Gray, Peter B., and Kermyt G. Anderson. 2010. Fatherhood: evolution and human paternal behavior. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.']
  • ['Green, Richard E., Johannes Krause, Adrian W. Briggs, Tomislav Maricic, Udo Stenzel, Martin Kircher, Nick Patterson, et al. 2010. A draft sequence of the Neandertal genome. Science 328:710–722.']
  • ['Gross, Mart R. 1996. Alternative reproductive strategies and tactics: diversity within sexes. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 11:92–98.']
  • ['Guatelli-Steinberg, Debbie, Paul W. Sciulli, and Tracy K. Betsinger. 2008. Dental crown size and sex hormone concentrations: another look at the development of sexual dimorphism. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 137:324–333.']
  • ['Gurven, Michael D., and Kim Hill. 2009. Why do men hunt? a reevaluation of “man the hunter” and the sexual division of labor. Current Anthropology 50:51–74.']
  • ['Hamilton, William. 1966. The moulding of senescence by natural selection. Journal of Theoretical Biology 12:12–45.']
  • ['Harcourt, Alexander H., Paul H. Harvey, Susan G. Larson, and R. V. Short. 1981. Testis weight, body weight and breeding system in primates. Nature 293:55–57.']
  • ['Harman, S. Mitchell, E. Jeffrey Metter, Jordan D. Tobin, Jay Pearson, and Marc R. Blackman. 2001. Longitudinal effects of aging on serum total and free testosterone levels in healthy men: Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 86:724–731.']
  • ['Hartung, John. 1985. Matrilineal inheritance: new theory and analysis. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 8:661–670.']
  • ['Hawkes, Kristen. 1991. Showing off: tests of an hypothesis about men’s foraging goals. Ethology and Sociobiology 12:29–54.']
  • ['Hawkes, Kristen, John F. O’Connell, Nicholas G. B. Jones, Helen Alvarez, and Eric L. Charnov. 1998. Grandmothering, menopause, and the evolution of human life histories. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 95:1336–1339.']
  • ['Hewlett, Barry S. 1991. Intimate fathers: the nature and context of Aka Pygmy paternal infant care. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.']
  • ['———, ed. 1992. Father-child relations: cultural and biosocial contexts. Foundations of Human Behavior. Hawthorne, NY: de Gruyter.']
  • ['Hill, Kim R., Robert S. Walker, Miran Bozicevic, James Eder, Thomas Headland, Barry Hewlett, A. Magdalena Hurtado, Frank Marlowe, Polly Wiessner, and Brian Wood. 2011. Co-residence patterns in hunter-gatherer societies show unique human social structure. Science 331:1286–1289.']
  • ['Kaplan, Hillard, and Kim Hill. 1985. Hunting ability and reproductive success among male Ache foragers: preliminary results. Current Anthropology 26:131–133.']
  • ['Ketterson, Ellen D., Van Nolan Jr., Licia Wolf, and Charles Ziegenfus. 1992. Testosterone and avian life histories: effects of experimentally elevated testosterone on behavior and correlates of fitness in the dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis). American Naturalist 140:980–999.']
  • ['Key, Catherine, and Leslie C. Aiello. 2000. A prisoner’s dilemma model of the evolution of paternal care. Folia Primatologica (Basel) 71:77–92.']
  • ['Key, Catherine, and Caroline Ross. 1999. Sex differences in energy expenditure in non-human primates. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 266:2479–2485.']
  • ['Kleiman, Devra G., and James R. Malcolm. 1981. The evolution of male parental investment in primates. In Parental care in mammals. David J. Gubernick and Peter H. Klopfer, eds. Pp. 347–387. New York: Plenum.']
  • ['Knott, Cheryl D. 2001. Female reproductive ecology of the apes: implications for human evolution. In Reproductive ecology and human evolution. Peter T. Ellison, ed. Pp. 429–463. New York: de Gruyter.']
  • ['Kramer, Karen L. 2005. Children’s help and the pace of reproduction: cooperative breeding in humans. Evolutionary Anthropology 14:224–237.']
  • ['Lalueza-Fox, Charles, Antonio Rosas, Almudena Estalrrich, Elena Gigli, Paula F. Campos, Antonio Garcia-Tabernero, Samuel Garcia-Vargas, et al. 2011. Genetic evidence for patrilocal mating behavior among Neandertal groups. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 108:250–253.']
  • ['Lappan, Susan. 2008. Male care of infants in a siamang (Symphalangus syndactylus) population including socially monogamous and polyandrous groups. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 62:1307–1317.']
  • ['Leonard, William R., and Marcia L. Robertson. 1997. Comparative primate energetics and hominid evolution. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 102:265–281.']
  • ['Lin, Ines C., Alison E. Slemp, Catherine Hwang, Jagajan Karmacharya, Ashley D. Gordon, and Richard E. Kirschner. 2004. Immunolocalization of androgen receptor in the developing craniofacial skeleton. Journal of Craniofacial Surgery 15:922–927.']
  • ['Marlowe, Frank. 1999. Male care and mating effort among Hadza foragers. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 46:46–57.']
  • ['———. 2000a. Paternal investment and the human mating system. Behavioural Processes 51:45–61.']
  • ['———. 2000b. The patriarch hypothesis: an alternative explanation of menopause. Human Nature 11:27–42.']
  • ['———. 2010. The Hadza: hunter-gatherers of Tanzania. Origins of Human Behavior and Culture, vol. 3. Berkeley: University of California Press.']
  • ['Martin, Robert D. 2007. The evolution of human reproduction: a primatological perspective. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 134(suppl. 45):59–84.']
  • ['McHenry, Henry M. 1994. Behavioral ecological implications of early hominid body size. Journal of Human Evolution 27:77–87.']
  • ['Michod, Richard E. 1979. Evolution of life histories in response to age-specific mortality factors. American Naturalist 113:531–550.']
  • ['Muehlenbein, Michael P., and Richard G. Bribiescas. 2005. Testosterone-mediated immune functions and male life histories. American Journal of Human Biology 17:527–558.']
  • ['Muller, Martin N., Frank W. Marlow, Revocatus Bugumba, and Peter T. Ellison. 2009. Testosterone and paternal care in East African foragers and pastoralists. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 276:347–354.']
  • ['Parke, Ross D. 1996. Fatherhood. Developing Child Series. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.']
  • ['Perrett, David I., Keith A. May, and Sakiko Yoshikawa. 1994. Facial shape and judgements of female attractiveness. Nature 368:239–242.']
  • ['Pigliucci, Massimo. 2001. Phenotypic plasticity: beyond nature and nurture. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.']
  • ['Pirinen, Sinikka. 1995. Endocrine regulation of craniofacial growth. Acta Odontologica Scandinavica 53:179–185.']
  • ['Plavcan, J. Michael. 2003. Scaling relationships between craniofacial sexual dimorphism and body mass dimorphism in primates: implications for the fossil record. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 120:38–60.']
  • ['———. 2012. Body size, size variation, and sexual size dimorphism. Current Anthropology 53(suppl. 6):S409–S423.']
  • ['Plavcan, J. Michael, and Carel P. van Schaik. 1997. Interpreting hominid behavior on the basis of sexual dimorphism. Journal of Human Evolution 32:345–374.']
  • ['Pontzer, Herman. 2012. Ecological energetics in early Homo. Current Anthropology 53(suppl. 6):S346-S358. ']
  • ['Pound, Nicholas, Ian S. Penton-Voak, and Alison K. Surridge. 2009. Testosterone responses to competition in men are related to facial masculinity. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 276:153–159.']
  • ['Puts, David A. 2010. Beauty and the beast: mechanisms of sexual selection in humans. Evolution and Human Behavior 31:157–175.']
  • ['Relyea, Rick A. 2002. Costs of phenotypic plasticity. American Naturalist 159:272–282.']
  • ['Roney, James R., Katherine N. Hanson, Kristina M. Durante, and Dario Maestripieri. 2006. Reading men’s faces: women’s mate attractiveness judgments track men’s testosterone and interest in infants. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 273:2169–2175.']
  • ['Schwalb, David W., Jun Nakazawa, Toshiya Yamamoto, and Jung-Hwan Hyun. 2010. Fathering in Japan, China, and Korea: changing contexts, images, and roles. In The role of the father in child development. Michael Lamb, ed. Pp. 341–387. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.']
  • ['Schwartz, Gary T. 2012. Growth, development, and life history throughout the evolution of Homo. Current Anthropology 53(suppl. 6):S395–S408.']
  • ['Sear, Rebecca, and Ruth Mace. 2008. Who keeps children alive? a review of the effects of kin on child survival. Evolution and Human Behavior 29:1–18.']
  • ['Simpson, Scott W., Jay Quade, Naomi E. Levin, Robert Butler, Guillaume Dupont-Nivet, Melanie Everett, and Sileshi Semaw. 2008. A female Homo erectus pelvis from Gona, Ethiopia. Science 322:1089–1092.']
  • ['Smuts, Barbara, and David J. Gubernick. 1992. Male-infant relationships in non-human primates: paternal investment or mating effort? In Father-child relations: cultural and biosocial contexts. Barry S. Hewlett, ed. Pp. 1–30. Foundations of Human Behavior. Hawthorne, NY: de Gruyter.']
  • ['Stearns, Stephen C. 1989. Trade-offs in life history evolution. Functional Ecology 3:259–268.']
  • ['Stearns, Stephen C., and Jacob C. Koella. 1986. The evolution of phenotypic plasticity in life-history traits: predictions of reaction norms for age and size at maturity. Evolution 40:893–913.']
  • ['Trivers, Robert L. 1972. Parental investment and sexual selection. In Sexual selection and the descent of man. Bernard Campbell, ed. Pp. 52–97. Chicago: Aldine.']
  • ['Tuljapurkar, Shripad D., Cedric O. Puleston, and Michael D. Gurven. 2007. Why men matter: mating patterns drive evolution of human lifespan. PLoS ONE 2:e785.']
  • ['Verdonck, Anna, M. Gaethofs, Carine Carels, and Francis de Zegher. 1999. Effect of low-dose testosterone treatment on craniofacial growth in boys with delayed puberty. European Journal of Orthodontics 21:137–143.']
  • ['von Koenigswald, Wighart. 1979. Ein Lemurenrest aus dem eozänen Ölschiefer der Grube Messel bei Darmstadt. Paläontologische Zeitschrift 53:63–76.']
  • ['Walker, Robert, and Kim Hill. 2003. Modeling growth and senescence in physical performance among the Ache of eastern Paraguay. American Journal of Human Biology 15:196–208.']
  • ['Walker, Robert, Kim Hill, Hillard Kaplan, and Garnett McMillan. 2002. Age-dependency in hunting ability among the Ache of eastern Paraguay. Journal of Human Evolution 42:639–657.']
  • ['Walker, Robert S., Mark V. Flinn, and Kim R. Hill. 2010. Evolutionary history of partible paternity in lowland South America. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 107:19195–19200.']
  • ['Waynforth, David, Sonia Delwadia, and Miriam Camm. 2005. The influence of women’s mating strategies on preference for masculine facial architecture. Evolution and Human Behavior 26:409–416.']
  • ['Whiting, John, and Beatrice Whiting. 1975. Aloofness and intimacy of husbands and wives: a cross-cultural study. Ethos 3:183–207.']
  • ['Wood, Bernard, and Mark Collard. 1999. The human genus. Science 284:65–71.']
  • ['Wynne-Edwards, Katherine E. 2001. Hormonal changes in mammalian fathers. Hormones and Behavior 40:139–145.']
  • ['Zitzmann, Michael, and Eberhard Nieschlag. 2001. Testosterone levels in healthy men and the relation to behavioural and physical characteristics: facts and constructs. European Journal of Endocrinology 144:183–197.']