Seasonality of births in Homo sapiens in pre-industrial Finland: maximisation of offspring survivorship?

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Abstract

We examined the seasonal variation in human birth and infant survival rates in pre-modern Finland. If survival probabilities of children born during different seasons of the year differ and if timing of reproduction has been affected by natural selection, periodic variation in environment could have led to reproduction during the season of best infant survival expectations. Significant seasonal variation in both birth rate and survival probability was found, but the monthly birth and survival rates of newborn were uncorrelated. Hence, if there was any tendency to maximise the reproductive success, increase in some other component of fitness than the infant survival was probably targeted. The effect of major holidays on the birth rate was proved to be notable, suggesting that although the basis for seasonal variation in birth rate was biological, sociocultural factors had an impact on the timing of reproduction in humans. The overall mortality of infant boys exceeded that of infant girls in all seasons. This difference was smallest during the time of best food supplies, indicating that the development of males was less buffered against environmental disturbances than that of females.

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