Human Nature

, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 71–97 | Cite as

Foraging Performance, Prosociality, and Kin Presence Do Not Predict Lifetime Reproductive Success in Batek Hunter-Gatherers

  • Thomas S. KraftEmail author
  • Vivek V. Venkataraman
  • Ivan Tacey
  • Nathaniel J. Dominy
  • Kirk M. Endicott


Identifying the determinants of reproductive success in small-scale societies is critical for understanding how natural selection has shaped human evolution and behavior. The available evidence suggests that status-accruing behaviors such as hunting and prosociality are pathways to reproductive success, but social egalitarianism may diminish this pathway. Here we introduce a mixed longitudinal/cross-sectional dataset based on 45 years of research with the Batek, a population of egalitarian rain forest hunter-gatherers in Peninsular Malaysia, and use it to test the effects of four predictors of lifetime reproductive success: (i) foraging return rate, (ii) sharing proclivity, (iii) cooperative foraging tendency, and (iv) kin presence. We found that none of these factors can explain variation in lifetime reproduction among males or females. We suggest that social egalitarianism, combined with strikingly low infant and juvenile mortality rates, can mediate the pathway between foraging, status-accruing behavior, and reproductive success. Our approach advocates for greater theoretical and empirical attention to quantitative social network measures, female foraging, and fitness outcomes.


Hunter-gatherers Reproductive success Foraging Prosociality Sharing Cooperation 



We thank all the Batek who have generously participated in our collective research over the years. We would also like to thank Karen Endicott for help in collecting data, Aya Kawai for sharing information on Batek kinship and genealogy, and Lye Tuck-Po and Thomas Overly for advice and assistance. Kristen Hawkes, Mark McPeek, and several anonymous reviewers provided invaluable feedback on earlier drafts.

This work was supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation (grant num. 8551 to IT), National Science Foundation (Graduate Research Fellowships to TSK and VVV; DDRIG to TSK), National Geographic Society (Young Explorer’s Grant to TSK), Leakey Foundation (Research Grant to TSK), and the Claire Garber Goodman Fund at Dartmouth College. The Endicotts’ research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, University of Malaya, Australian National University, Fulbright-Hays Foundation, American Council of Learned Societies, and Social Science Research Council.

This research was approved by Dartmouth College’s Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects (protocol #22410) and was conducted with full approval and support of the Malaysian government and Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli (formerly Department of Aboriginal Affairs) under permits VC/60050/70; #045847; 581/70, VC/60050; #147485, VC/60050; #4227, VC/60050; 674/90 (KME), UPE: 40/200/19/2029, UPE: 40/200/19/2889, and JPHL&TN (IP) 80-4/2 Jilid (IT).

Supplementary material

12110_2018_9334_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (247 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 247 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyDartmouth CollegeHanoverUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of California-Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA
  3. 3.Department of Human Evolutionary BiologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  4. 4.Exeter Anthrozoology as Symbiotics Ethics Working GroupUniversity of ExeterExeterUK

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