Can Life History Trade-Offs Explain the Evolution of Short Stature in Human Pygmies? A Response to Migliano et al. (2007)

Abstract : Walker et al. ["Growth rates and life histories in twenty-two small-scale societies," Am. J. Hum. Biol. 18:295-311 (2006)] used life history theory to develop an innovative explanation for human diversity in stature. Short stature could have been selected for in some human populations as a result of the advantage of an earlier growth cessation and earlier reproduction in a context of high mortality. Migliano et al. ["Life history trade-offs explain the evolution of human pygmies," Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 104:20,216-20,219 (2007)] recently published an important article that tested this hypothesis to explain short stature in human pygmy populations. However innovative this work may be, we believe that some of the data and results presented are controversial if not questionable. As problematic points we note (1) the use of an arbitrary threshold of height (155 cm) to categorize populations into pygmies and nonpygmies; (2) the use of demographic data from Philippine pygmy groups that have experienced dramatic cultural and environmental changes in the last 20 years, and (3) the use of demographic data concerning African pygmy groups because good systematic data on these groups are not available. Finally, we report here mathematical errors and loopholes in the optimization model developed by Migliano and colleagues. In this paper we suggest alternative trade-offs that can be used to explain Migliano's results on more reliable bases. Raymond Pearl, the founder of Human Biology, was concerned throughout his career with the "proper measure of man" (Sokal 2004), probably his main legacy to anthropological sciences. Because the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences does not publish commentaries, we thought that Human Biology was an appropriate place to publish a commentary on a research article by Migliano et al. (2007), who proposed to interpret human diversity in stature and the human pygmy phenotype in light of life history theory. However innovative and challenging this
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Noémie Becker, Paul Verdu, Barry Hewlett, Samuel Pavard. Can Life History Trade-Offs Explain the Evolution of Short Stature in Human Pygmies? A Response to Migliano et al. (2007). Human Biology, Wayne State University Press, 2010, 82 (1), pp.17 - 27. ⟨10.3378/027.082.0101⟩. ⟨mnhn-02282838⟩

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