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Book Chapter

Human ecology

Hamilton, M. J., Burger, O., Walker, R.

In: Sibly, R. M., Brown, J. H., Kodric-Brown, A. (Eds.): Metabolic ecology: a scaling approach, 248-257 (2012)
Oxford [et al.]: Wiley-Blackwell.

ISBN 978-0-470-67152-8

Abstract

1 Metabolic ecology provides a robust theoretical framework for understanding how individual metabolic processes constrain flows of energy and materials at all levels of biological organization as organisms interact with their environments. Here we use this framework to examine variation in human ecology across scales, from individual life histories to the ecology of populations, and from hunter-gatherer societies to modern nation-states. 2 Many aspects of human ecology, such as most life-history traits, are remarkably predictable for a mammal of our body size. Deviations from expectations occur primarily at the population level as human population energetics is not simply the linear sum of individual demands. 3 Humans and the complex social systems we create are clearly constrained by the energy fluxes at all scales of social organization. Moreover, the same quantitative scaling relations indicative of economies of scale are found across the spectrum of human socio-economies. Specifically, as human systems grow in size they also increase in per-capita efficiency, due to the benefits of existing within complex social and infrastructure networks where resources, energy, and information can be shared widely and quickly across populations. 4 A metabolic approach to human ecology lends insight into those specific ways in which humans are a predictable mammal species, and the ways in which we differ. Consequently, human metabolic ecology provides anthropology with a theoretical framework to understand the energetic evolution of the human species, and why the human species became the most ecologically dominant species in Earth’s history.

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