Low fertility among nomadic !Kung foragers of the northern Kalahari Desert of Botswana has been hypothesized to be an adaptation to scarcity of food. However, a comparison of !Kung fertility before and after a transition to a more sedentary lifestyle indicates that more food did not increase fertility. An examination of the fertility of neighboring sedentary Bantu-speaking Herero pastoralists during the same period also indicates that low female reproductive rates in this region are not unique to the !Kung. Herero fertility has increased dramatically in recent decades, probably in response to the control of sexually transmitted diseases in northwestern Botswana. More food appears to have substantially increased !Kung reproductive success by reducing infant and child mortality rates to levels observed among the Herero. These findings suggest that low !Kung fertility and mortality reflect contact with the Herero, who began expanding in large numbers into !Kung territory in the 1950s. This study emphasizes the need for a more rigorous comparative perspective in anthropology to understand better the significance of findings from restricted populations, and I suggest that evolutionary ecology would benefit from shifting some of its current focus on fertility to mortality.
"Did Food Increase Fertility? Evaluation of !Kung and Herero History,"
4, Article 13.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/humbiol/vol64/iss4/13