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Age-Appropriate Wisdom?

Ethnobiological Knowledge Ontogeny in Pastoralist Mexican Choyeros

A Correction to this article was published on 01 March 2021

This article has been updated

Abstract

We investigate whether age profiles of ethnobiological knowledge development are consistent with predictions derived from life history theory about the timing of productivity and reproduction. Life history models predict complementary knowledge profiles developing across the lifespan for women and men as they experience changes in embodied capital and the needs of dependent offspring. We evaluate these predictions using an ethnobiological knowledge assessment tool developed for an off-grid pastoralist population known as Choyeros, from Baja California Sur, Mexico. Our results indicate that while individuals acquire knowledge of most dangerous items and edible resources by early adulthood, knowledge of plants and animals relevant to the age and sex divided labor domains and ecologies (e.g., women’s house gardens, men’s herding activities in the wilderness) continues to develop into middle adulthood but to different degrees and at different rates for men and women. As the demands of offspring on parents accumulate with age, reproductive-aged adults continue to develop their knowledge to meet their children’s needs. After controlling for vision, our analysis indicates that many post-reproductive adults show the greatest ethnobiological knowledge. These findings extend our understanding of the evolved human life history by illustrating how changes in embodied capital and the needs of dependent offspring predict the development of men’s and women’s ethnobiological knowledge across the lifespan.

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Availability of data and material (data transparency)

Raw data for this study is available at Mendeley Data https://doi.org/10.17632/hgd8zdyf2c.1

Change history

Notes

  1. Others also report ethnobiological knowledge variation at different ages and across generations (Hewlett et al. 2011; Kline et al. 2013; Ohmagari and Berkes 1997; Schniter et al. 2015; Zarger and Stepp 2004; Zent 2001).

  2. Like plants, animals may also be differentially distributed across environments (e.g., human inhabited vs. uninhabited), but often less so because of their mobility and movements across environments.

  3. We thank an anonymous reviewer for pointing out the merits of the “plant trail interview” (Quinlan et al. 2016).

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Funding

This research project was supported by National Geographic Society (Research and Exploration Award HJ-099R-17), National Science Foundation (IBSS-L Award# 1743019), Funding Incentive Seed Grant (University of Utah), Center for Latin American Studies (University of Utah), Society, Water, and Climate Seed Grant (University of Utah), and NEXUS Pilot Grant (University of Utah), Economic Science Institute (Chapman University), Division of Anthropology (California State University Fullerton).

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Schniter, E., Macfarlan, S.J., Garcia, J.J. et al. Age-Appropriate Wisdom?. Hum Nat 32, 48–83 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-021-09387-8

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Keywords

  • Traditional ecological knowledge
  • Ethnobiological knowledge
  • Learning
  • Embodied capital
  • Life history theory
  • Baja California Sur
  • México