Your PDF has successfully downloaded.

You may be interested in finding more content on these topics:


You are not currently logged in.

Access JSTOR through your library or other institution:


Log in through your institution.

Journal Article

The Effects of Mortality, Subsistence, and Ecology on Human Adult Height and Implications for Homo Evolution

Andrea Bamberg Migliano and Myrtille Guillon
Current Anthropology
Vol. 53, No. S6, Human Biology and the Origins of Homo (December 2012), pp. S359-S368
DOI: 10.1086/667694
Stable URL:
Page Count: 10
Were these topics helpful?
See something inaccurate? Let us know!

Select the topics that are inaccurate.

  • Download PDF
  • Add to My Lists
  • Cite this Item
We're having trouble loading this content. Download PDF instead.


The increase in body size observed with the appearance and evolution of Homo is most often attributed to thermoregulatory and locomotor adaptations to environment; increased reliance on animal protein and fat; or increased behavioral flexibility, provisioning, and cooperation leading to decreased mortality rates and slow life histories. It is not easy to test these hypotheses in the fossil record. Therefore, understanding selective pressures shaping height variability in living humans might help to construct models for the interpretation of body size variation in the hominins. Among human populations, average male height varies extensively (145 cm–183 cm); a similar range of variation is found in Homo erectus (including African and Georgian samples). Previous research shows that height in human populations covaries with life history traits and variations in mortality rates and that different environments affect adult height through adaptations related to thermoregulation and nutrition. We investigate the interactions between life history traits, mortality rates, environmental setting, and subsistence for 89 small-scale societies. We show that mortality rates are the primary factor shaping adult height variation and that people in savanna are consistently taller than people in forests. We focus on relevant results for interpreting the evolution of Homo body size variability.

Notes and References

This item contains 51 references.

References Cited
  • ['Adair, Linda S. 2007. Size at birth and growth trajectories to young adulthood. American Journal of Human Biology 19(3):327–337.']
  • ['Aiello, Leslie C., and Catherine Key. 2002. Energetic consequences of being a Homo erectus female. American Journal of Human Biology 14(5):551–565.']
  • ['Aiello, Leslie C., and Peter Wheeler. 1995. The expensive-tissue hypothesis: the brain and the digestive system in human and primate evolution. Current Anthropology 36:199–221.']
  • ['Akachi, Yoko, and David Canning. 2007. The height of women in sub-Saharan Africa: the role of health, nutrition, and income in childhood. Annals of Human Biology 34(4):397–410.']
  • ['Antón, Susan C. 2012. Early Homo: who, when, and where. Current Anthropology 53(suppl. 6):S278–S298.']
  • ['Antón, Susan C., and J. Josh Snodgrass. 2012. Origin and evolution of genus Homo: a new perspective. Current Anthropology 53(suppl. 6):S479–S496.']
  • ['Ashton, Kyle G., Mark C. Tracy, and Alan de Queiroz. 2000. Is Bergmann’s rule valid for mammals? American Naturalist 156:390–415.']
  • ['Bailey, Robert C. 1991. The comparative growth of Efe Pygmies and African farmers from birth to age 5 years. Annals of Human Biology 18:113–120.']
  • ['Bailey, Robert C., and Nadine R. Peacock. 1988. Efe Pygmies of northeast Zaire subsistence strategies in the Ituri Forest. In Coping with uncertainty in food supply. Igor de Garine and Geoffrey Ainsworth Harrison, eds. Pp. 88–117. Oxford: Oxford University Press.']
  • ['Bergmann, Karl Georg Lucas Christian. 1847. Über die Verhältnisse der Wärmeökonomie der Thiere zuihrer Grösse. Göttinger Studien 3(1):595–708.']
  • ['Binford, Lewis Roberts. 2001. Constructing frames of reference: an analytical method for archaeological theory building using hunter-gatherer and environmental data sets. Berkeley: University of California Press.']
  • ['Bribiescas, Richard G., Peter T. Ellison, and Peter B. Gray. 2012. Reproductive effort and paternal investment plasticity in men: implications for the evolution of Homo. Current Anthropology 53(suppl. 6):S424–S435.']
  • ['Brown, Peter, Thomas Sutikna, Michael J. Morwood, Raden P. Soejono, Jatmiko, E. Wayhu Saptomo, and Rokus Awe Due. 2004. A new small-bodied hominin from the Late Pleistocene of Flores, Indonesia. Nature 431(7012):1055–1061.']
  • ['Cameron, Noel. 1991. Human growth, nutrition, and health-status in sub-Saharan Africa. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 34:211–250.']
  • ['Carmody, Rachel N., and Richard W. Wrangham. 2009. The energetic significance of cooking. Journal of Human Evolution 57:379–391.']
  • ['Cavalli-Sforza, Luigi Lucca. 1986. African Pygmies. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.']
  • ['Charnov, Eric L. 1992. Life history invariants. Oxford: Oxford University Press.']
  • ['Danubio, Marica, and Emanuele Sanna. 2008. Secular changes in human biological variables in Western countries: an updated review and synthesis. Journal of Anthropological Sciences 86:91–112.']
  • ['Dean, M. Christopher. 2006. Tooth microstructure tracks the pace of human life-history evolution. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 273(1603):2799–2808.']
  • ['Eltringham, S. Keith. 1999. The hippos: natural history and conservation. London: Academic Press.']
  • ['Golden, Michael H. N. 1991. The nature of nutritional deficiency in relation to growth failure and poverty. Acta Paediatrica 80:95–110.']
  • ['Harvey, Paul H., and Timothy H. Clutton-Brock. 1985. Life-history variation in primates. Evolution 39(3):559–581.']
  • ['Harvey, Paul H., and Andy Purvis. 1999. Understanding the ecological and evolutionary reasons for life history variation: mammals as a case study. In Advanced ecological theory: principles and applications. Jacqueline M. McGlade, ed. Pp. 232–248. Oxford: Blackwell Science.']
  • ['Harvey, Paul H., and Richard M. Zammuto. 1985. Patterns of mortality and age at first reproduction in natural populations of mammals. Nature 315:319–320.']
  • ['Holliday, Trenton W. 2012. Body size, body shape, and the circumscription of the genus Homo. Current Anthropology 53(suppl. 6):S330–S345.']
  • ['Isler, Karin, and Carel P. van Schaik. 2012. How our ancestors broke through the gray ceiling: comparative evidence for cooperative breeding in early Homo. Current Anthropology 53(suppl. 6):S453–S465.']
  • ['Kaplan, Hillard, Kim Hill, Jane Lancaster, and A. Magdalena Hurtado. 2000. A theory of human life history evolution: diet, intelligence, and longevity. Evolutionary Anthropology 9(4):156–185.']
  • ['Kuzawa, Christopher W., and Jared M. Bragg. 2012. Plasticity in human life history strategy: implications for contemporary human variation and the evolution of genus Homo. Current Anthropology 53(suppl. 6):S369–S382.']
  • ['Lampl, Michelle, Francis E. Johnston, and Laurence A. Malcolm. 1978. The effects of protein supplementation on the growth and skeletal maturation of New Guinean school children. Annals of Human Biology 5:219–227.']
  • ['Little, Michael A., Kathleen A. Galvin, and Mutuma Mugambi. 1983. Cross-sectional growth of nomadic Turkana pastoralists. Human Biology 55:811–830.']
  • ['Lordkipanidze, David, Tea Jashashvili, Abesalom Vekua, Marcia S. Ponce de León, Christoph P. E. Zollikofer, G. Philip Rightmire, Herman Pontzer, et al. 2007. Postcranial evidence from early Homo from Dmanisi, Georgia. Nature 449:305–310.']
  • ['Migliano, Andrea Bamberg. 2005. Why Pygmies are small: ontogenetic implications of life history evolution. PhD thesis, University of Cambridge.']
  • ['Migliano, Andrea Bamberg, Lucio Vinicius, and Marta Mirazón Lahr. 2007. Life-history trade-offs explain the evolution of human Pygmies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 104:20216–20219.']
  • ['———. 2010. Why are Pygmies so short? a defence of Migliano’s hypothesis. Human Biology 82:109–113.']
  • ['Morgan, Bethan J., and Phyllis C. Lee. 2003. Forest elephant (Loxodonta africana cyclotis) stature in the Reserve de Faune du Petit Loango. Gabon Journal of Zoology 259:337–344.']
  • ['O’Connell, James F., Kristin Hawkes, and Nicholas G. Blurton Jones. 1999. Grandmothering and the evolution of Homo erectus. Journal of Human Evolution 36:461–485.']
  • ['Passey, Benjamin H., Naomi E. Levin, Thure E. Cerling, Francis H. Brown, and John M. Eiler. 2010. High-temperature environments of human evolution in East Africa based on bond ordering in paleosol carbonates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 107:11245–11249.']
  • ['Pontzer, Herman. 2012. Ecological energetics in early Homo. Current Anthropology 53(suppl. 6):S346–S358.']
  • ['Potts, Richard. 2012. An African environmental framework for investigating the evolution of early Homo. Current Anthropology 53(suppl. 6):S299–S317.']
  • ['Promislow, Daniel E. L., and Paul H. Harvey. 1990. Living fast and dying young: a comparative analysis of life-history variation among mammals. Journal of Zoology 220:417–437.']
  • ['Roberts, Derek Frank. 1973. Climate and human variability. California: Cummings.']
  • ['Ruff, Christopher B. 1993. Climatic adaptation and hominid evolution: the thermoregulatory imperative. Evolutionary Anthropology 2:53–60.']
  • ['Schwartz, Gary T. 2012. Growth, development, and life history throughout the evolution of Homo. Current Anthropology 53(suppl. 6):S395–S408.']
  • ['Silventoinen, Karri. 2003. Determinants of variation in adult body height. Journal of Biosocial Science 35(2):263–285.']
  • ['Stearns, Stephen C. 1992. The evolution of life histories. New York: Oxford University Press.']
  • ['Stock, Jay T., and Andrea Bamberg Migliano. 2009. Stature, mortality, and life history among indigenous populations of the Andaman Islands, 1871–1986. Current Anthropology 50(5):713–725.']
  • ['Trauth, Martin H., Mark A. Maslin, Alan L. Deino, Annett Junginger, Moses Lesoloyia, Eric O. Odada, Daniel O. Olago, Lydia A. Olaka, Manfred R. Strecker, and Ralph Tiedemann. 2010. Human evolution in a variable environment: the amplifier lakes of eastern Africa. Quaternary Science Reviews 29:2981–2988.']
  • ['Turnbull, Colin M. 1986. Survival factors among Mbuti and other hunters of the equatorial African rain forest. In African Pygmies. Luigi L. Cavalli-Sforza, ed. Pp. 103–123. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.']
  • ['Vrba, Elizabeth S. 1996. Climate, heterochrony, and human evolution. Journal of Anthropological Research 52(1):1–28.']
  • ['Walker, Robert, Michael Gurven, Kim Hill, Andrea Migliano, Napoleon Chagnon, Roberta De Souza, Gradimir Djurovic, et al. 2006. Growth rates and life histories in twenty-two small-scale societies. American Journal of Human Biology 18(3):295–311.']
  • ['Wheeler, Peter E. 1992. The thermoregulatory advantages of large body size for hominids foraging in savannah environments. Journal of Human Evolution 23:351–362.']