Early reproductive maturity among Pumé foragers: Implications of a pooled energy model to fast life histories



Life history theory places central importance on relationships between ontogeny, reproduction, and mortality. Fast human life histories have been theoretically and empirically associated with high mortality regimes. This relationship, however, poses an unanswered question about energy allocation. In epidemiologically stressful environments, a greater proportion of energy is allocated to immune function. If growth and maintenance are competing energetic expenditures, less energy should be available for growth, and the mechanism to sustain rapid maturation remains unclear. The human pattern of extended juvenile provisioning and resource sharing may provide an important source of variation in energy availability not predicted by tradeoff models that assume independence at weaning. We consider a group of South American foragers to evaluate the effects that pooled energy budgets may have on early reproduction. Despite growing up in an environment with distinct seasonal under-nutrition, harsh epidemiological conditions, and no health care, Pumé girls mature quickly and initiate childbearing in their midteens. Pooled energy budgets compensate for the low productivity of girls not only through direct food transfers but importantly by reducing energy they would otherwise expend in foraging activities to meet metabolic requirements. We suggest that pooled energy budgets affect energy availability at both extrinsic and intrinsic levels. Because energy budgets are pooled, Pumé girls and young women are buffered from environmental downturns and can maximize energy allocated to growth completion and initiate reproduction earlier than a traditional bound-energy model would predict. Am. J. Hum. Biol., 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.