Cooperative breeding and Aka children's nutritional status: Is flexibility key?



Research suggests that nonmaternal caregivers (allomothers) offer essential assistance through caregiving and provisioning, helping to support lengthy child development. Here, we examine the role of allomothers and the broader social and sharing network on Aka forager children's anthropometrics. We hypothesize that nonmaternal investors strategically target their assistance when it is most needed and when it will have the greatest effect. We evaluate children's nutritional status using WHO standards [weight-for-age (WAZ), height-for-age (HAZ), and weight-for-height (WHZ)] during four periods of child development [early infancy (birth to <9 months), mobility to weaning (9 to <36 months), early childhood (36 to <72 months), and middle childhood (72 to <120 months); N = 127]. We explore the effects of allomothers and the social network across these different risk periods and examine whether the broader social network buffers the loss of a primary allomother. ANOVA results suggest that girls may be experiencing some growth faltering, while boys start smaller and remain small across these stages. We used OLS multiple regression models to evaluate the effects of sex, camp composition, risk periods, and allomothers' presence on WAZ, HAZ, and WHZ. Grandmothers are the most influential allomother, with their effect most evident during the 9 to <36 month period. Camp size was also associated with greater WAZ, suggesting that children residing in small camps may be disadvantaged. Our findings also indicate that, under specific residence patterns, cooperative child rearing networks buffer the loss of a grandmother. Overall, our results suggest the importance of social networks to children's nutritional status and that individuals target investment to critical phases. Am J Phys Anthropol 153:513–525, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.