Reproductive trade-offs in extant hunter-gatherers suggest adaptive mechanism for the Neolithic expansion

Abigail E. Page*, Sylvain Viguier, Mark Dyble, Daniel Smith, Nikhil Chaudhary, Gul Deniz Salali, James Thompson, Lucio Vinicius, Ruth Mace, Andrea Bamberg Migliano

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


The Neolithic demographic transition remains a paradox, because it is associated with both higher rates of population growth and increased morbidity and mortality rates. Here we reconcile the conflicting evidence by proposing that the spread of agriculture involved a life history quality quantity trade-off whereby mothers traded offspring survival for increased fertility, achieving greater reproductive success despite deteriorating health. We test this hypothesis by investigating fertility, mortality, health, and overall reproductive success in Agta hunter-gatherers whose camps exhibit variable levels of sedentarization, mobility, and involvement in agricultural activities. We conducted blood composition tests in 345 Agta and found that viral and helminthic infections as well as child mortality rates were significantly increased with sedentarization. Nonetheless, both age-controlled fertility and overall reproductive successwere positively affected by sedentarization and participation in cultivation. Thus, we provide the first empirical evidence, to our knowledge, of an adaptive mechanism in foragers that reconciles the decline in health and child survival with the observed demographic expansion during the Neolithic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4694-4699
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - 26 Apr 2016


  • Epidemiological transition
  • Hunter-gatherers
  • Neolithic demographic transition
  • Neolithic revolution
  • Quality quantity trade-off

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