Industrial energy use and the human life history

Burger, O., DeLong, J. P., Hamilton, M. J.

Scientific Reports, 1:56, 1-7 (2011)



The demographic rates of most organisms are supported by the consumption of food energy, which is used to produce new biomass and fuel physiological processes. Unlike other species, modern humans use ‘extra-metabolic’ energy sources acquired independent of physiology, which also influence demographics. We ask whether the amount of extra-metabolic energy added to the energy budget affects demographic and life history traits in a predictable way. Currently it is not known how human demographics respond to energy use, and we characterize this response using an allometric approach. All of the human life history traits we examine are significant functions of per capita energy use across industrialized populations. We find a continuum of traits from those that respond strongly to the amount of extra-metabolic energy used, to those that respond with shallow slopes. We also show that the differences in plasticity across traits can drive the net reproductive rate to below-replacement levels.