Friday, July 15, 2005

Where "folk biology" fails....   posted by Razib @ 7/15/2005 12:35:00 PM

Reading After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC by Steve Mithen I came across this interesting fact: ~12,000 years ago the peoples of Western Asia were selectively hunting male gazelle. They clearly understood enough about animal reproduction (perhaps extrapolated from human patterns) that female mammals were the rate limiting step in the perpetuation of a species, so males were to some extent a superfluous element aside from the necessary reservoir needed for fertilization.1 But, these same people did not have a model of selective breeding which would allow them to anticipate the response of the character of the gazelle population to their preference for culling large males: the smaller males were the only ones who remained to mate with the females, so there was strong directional pressure for many generations toward less meaty gazelles! (the same process is occurring with the Asian elephant, as only males have tusks, and the less tusked males are most likely to survive to reproduce. If tusk size is a proxy for genetical health this might result in a mutational meltdown in the future)

Related: As the essay Folk Biology and the Anthropology of Science states explicitly, "folk biology" is most closely related to Systematics.

1 - Here is some information on why 50:50 sex ratios persist, though note that for most species reproductive skew is greater for males so that fewer of them pass on genes to the next generation than females.