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The Evolving Female

The Evolving Female: A Life History Perspective

Mary Ellen Morbeck
Alison Galloway
Adrienne L. Zihlman
Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 352
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    The Evolving Female
    Book Description:

    A human female is born, lives her life, and dies within the space of a few decades, but the shape of her life has been strongly influenced by 50 million years of primate evolution and more than 100 million years of mammalian evolution. How the individual female plays out the stages of her life--from infancy, through the reproductive period, to old age--and how these stages have been formed by a long evolutionary process, is the theme of this collection. Written by leading scholars in fields ranging from evolutionary biology to cultural anthropology, these essays together examine what it means to be female, integrating the life histories of marine mammals, monkeys, apes, and humans. The result is a fascinating inquiry into the similarities among the ways females of different species balance the need for survival with their role in reproduction and mothering.

    The Evolving Femaleoffers an outlook integrating life history with an intimate examination of female life paths. Behavior, anatomy and physiology, growth and development, cultural identity of women, the individual, and the society are among the topics investigated. In addition to the editors, the contributors are Linda Fedigan, Kathryn Ono, Joanne Reiter, Barbara Smuts, Mariko Hiraiwa-Hasegawa, Mary McDonald Pavelka, Caroline Pond, Robin McFarland, Silvana Borgognini Tarli and Elena Repetto, Gilda Morelli, Patricia Draper, Catherine Panter-Brick, Virginia J. Vitzthum, Alison Jolly, and Beverly McLeod.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2206-5
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Contributors
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. What Is Life History?
    (pp. xi-xx)

    What does it mean to be human? How did we get to be the way we are? How do we begin to “humanness”? We can approach these questions from comparative, functional, and evolutionary perspectives, which allow us to describe and explain variation in biology, behavior, and ecology in ourselves, in our close relatives, and in our ancestors through time and across geographical and ecological space.

    In this volume, a number of themes are linked. The most important one is the evolutionary heritage that each organism carries—a heritage that shapes the anatomical, physiological, and behavioral responses possible to environmental stimuli....

  6. 1 Life History, the Individual, and Evolution
    (pp. 3-14)
    Mary Ellen Morbeck

    Evolution is about differences in survival and reproduction: what it takes for organisms to survive thoughout the life stages and to reproduce during adulthood. “What it takes” is more than the genes emphasized by Dawkins—although he also recognizes life’s complexities (1976, 1986). And, “what it takes” involves more than Dunbar’s (1988) descriptions of behaviors—feeding, escape from predators, court-ship and mating, and infant care—by members of a given species in particular environments.

    Genes and behaviors, highlighted in these quotations, tell only part of the story. Observed behaviors depend on species-typical characters including their genetic and other biological foundations...

  7. 2 Changing Views of Female Life Histories
    (pp. 15-26)
    Linda Marie Fedigan

    Life historyis a term commonly used in the scientific literature on the assumption that everyone understands and agrees upon its meaning; but when one searches for a precise definition, multiple and divergent interpretations surface. This first became apparent to me when I explained to a cultural anthropologist that I was conducting life-history research on female Japanese macaques and discovered that she took this to mean I was writing biographical accounts of monkeys. Later, I realized that even within the biological sciences, the meaning of the term has changed over the course of the twentieth century and that primatologists are...

  8. What It Means to Be a Mammal
    (pp. 29-33)

    Humans are primates, and primates are mammals. In order to understand ourselves, we must first understand what it means to be a mammal. Evolutionary history includes a layering of biobehavioral features that characterize a species bauplan or body plan. Ours is rooted in the mammalian pattern. The way we live our lives, our growth, and our reproductive strategies are those of mammals. How do we know that we are mammals? First, we share readily identifiable life-history features with the other living mammals. Second, we can see the evidence for the evolution of our own unique combination of life-history traits in...

  9. 3 Sea Lions, Life History, and Reproduction
    (pp. 34-45)
    Kathryn Ono

    Pinnipeds are mammals that are adapted to live and forage in the ocean. In Latin, “pinni” means wing or feather and “ped” means foot, hence pinnipeds, or “feather foot,” a name they earn from their highly modified, paddle-like limbs. Pinnipedia is a subgroup of the mammalian order Carnivora, the carnivores or meat-eaters. All pinnipeds are carnivores, devouring a diverse array of marine life from large fish and squid and even other pinnipeds all the way down to mussels and krill. There is presently a controversy as to whether the two major subgroups of the pinnipeds had the same or different...

  10. 4 Life History and Reproductive Success of Female Northern Elephant Seals
    (pp. 46-52)
    Joanne Reiter

    A visitor to an island or mainland elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) rookery might conclude that elephant seal females lead an idyllic existence, spending most of their lives frolicking along the Pacific coast, eating squid, and participating in short, annual bouts of parental care. A closer examination of elephant seal life histories reveals that those adult females on the beach beat some tough odds to live to breeding age.

    As is true for most female mammals, elephant seals spend virtually all their adult lives bare-flippered and pregnant or lactating. The life histories of female elephant seals, however, represent a departure from...

  11. What It Means to Be a Primate
    (pp. 55-59)

    Within the mammalian order, the primates include the living and extinct lemurs, lorises, tarsiers, New and Old World monkeys, apes, and humans. We share an evolutionary history and, therefore, a suite of features that distinguish us among the mammals. In Part III, we emphasize the catarrhine primates (Old World monkeys, apes, and humans).

    Most primates live in trees, and almost all reside in tropical or subtropical forests. It is most likely that primates evolved in such a forest setting in tandem with the diversification of flowering plants. Early primates probably moved along the branches of trees in search of edible...

  12. 5 Social Relationships and Life Histories of Primates
    (pp. 60-68)
    Barbara B. Smuts

    Despite dramatic differences in lifestyle that distinguish us from people living in the hills of Nepal, the Kalahari desert, or the mountains of Peru, our lives are similar in one, fundamental aspect: for all humans, the state of a few, intimate relationships with other people strongly influences our well being. If our closest friends, our lover or spouse, our parents, and our children are doing well and feeling good about us, we tend to feel well. In contrast, if any of these people is suffering or if our relationship with one of them is in deep trouble, we tend to...

  13. 6 Development of Sex Differences in Nonhuman Primates
    (pp. 69-75)
    Mariko Hiraiwa-Hasegawa

    In this review, I summarize some aspects of the development of biological and behavioral sex differences among nonhuman primates. About 5 years into my research, I became interested in sex differences. I had avoided this subject because, in those days, too many popular books on sex differences in animals described stereotypical images of a female as a good mother and a male as a good fighter. Lacking functional explanations, they seemed to help justify discrimination against women in human societies.

    I began my career in primatology in the mid-1970s by studying mother-infant relationships in free-ranging Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) in...

  14. 7 The Social Life of Female Japanese Monkeys
    (pp. 76-85)
    Mary S. McDonald Pavelka

    South Texas is hot, dry, and covered in thorny brush. It is home to cactus, rattlesnake, and javelina, to cowboys, cotton, and cattle. Certainly an odd place to find snow monkeys, and, yet, here they are. Transplanted from Japan in 1972, the Arashiyama West Troop of Japanese macaque monkeys (Macaca fuscata) has tripled in size and now thrives on a large ranch outside the small agricultural town of Dilley, halfway between San Antonio and Laredo.

    The monkeys are essentially free ranging, as some years ago they ceased to respect the fence that is intended to enclose them. They are provisioned...

  15. 8 Natural History of Apes: Life-History Features in Females and Males
    (pp. 86-104)
    Adrienne L. Zihlman

    Life history, as defined broadly in this volume, offers a comparative, functional, and evolutionary framework that reflects the complexities of individual female and male lives. I first recognized the mosaic nature of sex differences in the 1960s while studying fossil bones of our probable ancestors (the human family, hominids who lived 2 to 5 million years ago). Sex differences involve many biological levels: from the genetic base to the anatomy and physiology of the brain, bones, and teeth, body size, shape and composition, external features, and expressed behaviors. What does it “mean” to be a female? What does it “mean”...

  16. What It Means to Be a Catarrhine
    (pp. 107-116)

    Nested within the mammalian and primate life-history features are those that apply to the Old World primates, known as the catarrhines. This group includes species of monkeys, apes, and humans. We are identified by a distinctive nasal apparatus, but the importance of this classification rests with our shared ancestry. When we look at this group of mammals, which includes ourselves, we see that it allows us to make some interpretations of life-history characteristics based on the skeletal material. Because of the shared ancestry, we can predict how some events will have repercussions on the skeleton. We also can see in...

  17. 9 Reading Life History in Teeth, Bones, and Fossils
    (pp. 117-131)
    Mary Ellen Morbeck

    Anthropologists are interested in human evolution and I first studied fossil apes and humans. Fossil teeth and bones are mineralized, leftover hard parts of once-living individuals. They provide a glimpse at the lifeways and life cycles of our ancestors and closest relatives. Teeth and bones make up the skeleton and function in real animals living real lives in real places. The skeleton contributes both to survival throughout the life stages and to reproduction during adulthood. It records the story of humans and all other primates, mammals, and vertebrates.

    What can teeth and bones reveal about life-history features? What cannot be...

  18. 10 The Cost of Reproduction and the Evolution of Postmenopausal Osteoporosis
    (pp. 132-146)
    Alison Galloway

    Humans are unique in experiencing a long period of senescence or old age. Why do some people age rapidly whereas, for others, old age brings the freedom to do as they please with little loss of bodily function or appearance? What is it that allows some to “grow old gracefully,” others to appear to resist all aging, whereas others are “old before their time”?

    Skeletal deterioration is among the multitude of changes that take place in the aging body. Some women, for instance, quickly lose height and acquire the classic “dowager’s hump.” Such a woman may no longer engage in...

  19. 11 The Biological Origins of Adipose Tissue in Humans
    (pp. 147-162)
    Caroline M. Pond

    The capacity to store nutrients, minerals, and protein, as well as energy, has been one of the major factors in the evolutionary success of mammals. Its critical role in both survival and reproduction is also part of primate and human evolutionary history. The major storage tissue in vertebrates, fat or adipose tissue, is unique to this group of animals. It normally occurs as one or a few pairs of locations, called depots, in the abdomen or, in a few fish species and in many amphibians and reptiles, the tail. Its main functions in these animals are first, to store energy...

  20. 12 Female Primates: Fat or Fit?
    (pp. 163-176)
    Robin McFarland

    Over the past century, we have refined Darwin’s ideas about individual survival and reproduction. Over the past decades, long-term studies of mammals—especially primates—in which individuals are followed throughout life (e.g., Altmann et al. 1977, 1988; Cheney et al. 1988; Goodall 1986; Fedigan chap. 2; Pavelka chap. 7) have revealed the subtleties of interaction between individuals and environments. Most recently, the life-history approach, emphasized in this volume, has helped us to understand selective forces that influence survival and fertility (Zihlman et al. 1990; Morbeck chap. 1). Such an approach provides the opportunity to understand selective pressures that influence individuals...

  21. What It Means to Be a Human
    (pp. 179-184)

    Humans share biobehavioral survival and reproductive life-history features with other catarrhines, primates, and mammals. We can be viewed as a variation on these themes, as shown by the chapters in this book. The use of the comparative, functional, and evolutionary approach to human studies elicits new insights into our standing within the natural and cultural worlds.

    Humans exhibit a set of distinctive species defined characteristics. Many of these are anatomically linked to the evolution of bipedalism and increased brain size and complexity (Zihlman chap. 13). These characters, however represent only a small portion of the features that distinguish us and...

  22. 13 Women’s Bodies, Women’s Lives: An Evolutionary Perspective
    (pp. 185-197)
    Adrienne L. Zihlman

    For many years I have been writing about the role of women in evolution, an interest that grew out of my early research on the origin of human locomotion and functional interpretations of fossil pelvic and limb bones. Hominid (i.e., the human family) locomotion allows individuals to walk long distances and to carry objects. Early in my academic life, I proposed that survival features such as locomotion evolved to promote male activities such as hunting. Women had been largely invisible in reconstructions of early human evolution, and their activities were passively portrayed. However, by the 1970s, I began to rethink...

  23. 14 Sex Differences in Human Populations: Change through Time
    (pp. 198-208)
    Silvana M. Borgognini Tarli and Elena Repetto

    Sex differences in humans and other species are evolutionary adaptations. Females and males are variations on the species’ life-history attributes. Sexual dimorphism, or the variations of sizes and structures in females and males, reflects differences in how each sex survives, mates, and rears offspring.

    The human skeleton allows us to study sex differences in present and past populations. Physical features that distinguish women and men include a mosaic of characters that are revealed at different levels of biobehavioral and ecological organization (Morbeck chap. 1).

    Sex differences, in part, result from species-specific growth, developmental, reproductive, and aging patterns in women and...

  24. 15 Growing Up Female in a Farmer Community and a Forager Community
    (pp. 209-219)
    Gilda A. Morelli

    Emakabwana, a young farmer woman, breathes heavily as she carries a food-laden wicker basket up a steep hill made treacherous by the morning rain. Secured to her hip by an old cloth is her 3-month-old son whose body bumps rhythmically in time to her steps. Behind her is Uese, her 4-year-old daughter, who precariously balances a small pot of water on her head, careful not to slip in the mud. As Emakabwana enters the village, she pauses to greet her husband and his friends who are sitting under a leaf-roofed, open-sided structure, protecting them from the mid-afternoon equatorial sun. Scanning...

  25. 16 Institutional, Evolutionary, and Demographic Contexts of Gender Roles: A Case Study of ! Kung Bushmen
    (pp. 220-232)
    Patricia Draper

    Sa//gai is a 10-year-old foraging girl. It is 9:00 a.m. The sun is already hot; even the sand is already uncomfortably warm under her bare feet. She scoots back into the partial shade of a nearby bush. She looks across the camp, her quick glance taking in the 10 grass huts that are the residences of the several families, some with young children, that form the hunting-and-gathering band she and her family live with. She looks about for something to do. Her mother and infant brother have already left for the day with some of the other women from the...

  26. 17 Women’s Work and Energetics: A Case Study from Nepal
    (pp. 233-241)
    Catherine Panter-Brick

    Nangsye Tamang, 21years of age, spent the night at her father’s house, having left her husband with the cattle penned on the mountain side. At dawn, her first household tasks were to fetch water at the village fountain, then walk over to the water mill where she nursed her child, and slept a little, while her sack of maize flour was being ground for the midmorning meal. Around 10 a.m., she left for the fields to weed millet with a group of 14 people, who had arranged to work on each other’s fields in reciprocal exchange. She carried her baby...

  27. 18 Flexibility and Paradox: The Nature of Adaptation in Human Reproduction
    (pp. 242-258)
    Virginia J. Vitzthum

    The study of the life history of human females involves many of the same questions as the study of any mammalian species. Yet, as culture-bearing organisms, humans are unique. Because human reproduction is shaped by a dynamic interplay of biology, culture, physical environment, and personal decisions, the challenge is to incorporate these dimensions into the investigation of human female life history. Clearly, there are many avenues by which to approach the study of human reproduction, and several fields—particularly, medicine and demography—have their differing perspectives (e.g., Bongaarts and Potter 1983). However, all acknowledge that ovarian function plays a key...

  28. Life History, Females, and Evolution
    (pp. 261-261)

    Jolly pioneered the importance of social intelligence, especially in primates. Using the broad perspective of life history, as in this volume, we see social intelligence as a survival life-history feature. Jolly also was one of the earliest field researchers to identify the role of female dominance in survival and reproductive outcome. Here, she builds on a continuing interest in sex and intelligence, especially in primates, including humans.

    Social intelligence, especially in long-growing, long-lived, big-brained, group-living primates, also promotes shuffling of information. It can be viewed at different levels: (1) where it fits in the whole organism–whole life scheme (survival...

  29. 19 Social Intelligence and Sexual Reproduction: Evolutionary Strategies
    (pp. 262-269)
    Alison Jolly

    Many evolutionary biologists have drawn parallels between physical evolution and cultural history. Many have pointed out the fundamental differences. Some have even tried to quantify their interactions. Darwin himself, Julian Huxley, J. B. S. Haldane, Kenneth Boulding, E. O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, and John Maynard Smith come to mind, as well as Teilhard de Chardin’s vision of our planet radiating thought. Their common theme is consideration of human thought and culture as a biological innovation, the product of natural selection, which in turn is changing the evolution of our species and of the biosphere.

    This essay makes a more modest...

  30. 20 Life History, Females, and Evolution: A Commentary
    (pp. 270-276)
    Beverly McLeod

    When I was a graduate student in cultural anthropology during the 1970s, the “man the hunter” theory still was in full swing. Human society developed, it was theorized, out of bonds among a group of males cooperating to kill large prey. The social division of labor by gender seen in modern society was patterned by our prehistoric ancestors: men went out to capture the bacon, while women stayed home to cook it and look after the kids. Even the origins of human language were ascribed to the male hunting band’s necessity for verbal communication through tall savanna grass. The implications...

  31. Literature Cited
    (pp. 277-326)
  32. Index
    (pp. 327-332)