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Anthropology Human Adaptability
by
Daniel E. Brown

Introduction

The field of human adaptability is a subdiscipline within the broader field of biological anthropology. Human adaptability focuses on the flexibility with which humans, both as individuals and as populations, cope with environmental challenges, through both biological and behavioral/cultural means. Researchers in this field take a biocultural perspective on human ecology, attempting to integrate approaches used in human biology with those more common in cultural and social anthropology. Because of the complexity of the subject, many studies within human adaptability have focused on a single environmental challenge, such as extreme temperatures, low oxygen pressures at high altitude, or exposure to infectious diseases. However, humans are often exposed to a multitude of challenges simultaneously, thus necessitating moving beyond a view of single challenges to a more comprehensive approach to the various stressors confronting individuals or populations. Research in human adaptability takes account of the nature of the stressors in the environment, including their intensity, duration, frequency, and predictability. Also, the characteristics of responses by humans are studied, including time to engage, strength, duration, frequency, and reversibility. Moreover, research must account for whether responses are made by individuals or are joint responses requiring cooperation from others within, or outside, the population. Responses may be evaluated in terms of effectiveness, efficiency, or riskiness.

General Overviews

There are several books that give an overview of the field of human adaptability, written variously for undergraduates, graduate students, or the general public. Textbooks that cover the field include Kormondy and Brown 1998, Moran 2008, and Stini 1975, a classic short volume. Frisancho 1993 has long served as a basis for graduate studies in human adaptability, and more recently the multiauthored text Stinson, et al. 2000 and edited volume Muehlenbein 2010 cover many topics of importance to the field. The festschrift to Paul Baker (Little and Haas 1989) presents the state of the field at the time, as represented by the work of Baker’s many students. Roberts, et al. 1992 examines how the study of population isolates and migrants provides vital information for understanding the scope of human adaptability, while Rosetta and Mascie-Taylor 2009 focuses on what is necessary for successful reproduction, including adaptation to the environment.

  • Frisancho, A. Roberto. 1993. Human adaptation and accommodation. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

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    This volume covers the entire field of human adaptability, focusing on adaptation to physical stressors and malnutrition. It is a graduate-level textbook that remains an important source of information about the field.

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  • Kormondy, Edward J., and Daniel E. Brown. 1998. Fundamentals of human ecology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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    A textbook intended for midlevel undergraduates, the book covers environmental anthropology, with an emphasis on human adaptability.

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  • Little, Michael A., and Jere D. Haas, eds. 1989. Human population biology: A transdisciplinary science. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    This book is a festschrift for Paul Baker, with articles on major topics in human adaptability authored by Baker’s former students. Topics include demography, genetic epidemiology, physiological adaptations, human biology and the life cycle, and transdisciplinary approaches to studies of human population biology.

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  • Moran, Emilio F. 2008. Human adaptability: An introduction to ecological anthropology. 3d ed. Boulder, CO: Westview.

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    An undergraduate textbook that covers all of ecological anthropology, including human adaptability. The book is organized by major biomes, and how cultural groups in those biomes adapt to the environment.

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  • Muehlenbein, Michael P., ed. 2010. Human evolutionary biology. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511781193Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A collection of excellent reviews, covering all major areas of human adaptability.

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  • Roberts, D. F., N. Fujiki, and K. Torizuka, eds. 1992. Isolation, migration and health. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    A collection of chapters examining the genetic and epidemiological effects of isolation and migration on human groups. The “natural experiments” due to isolation or migration permit human biologists to unravel some of the complexity involved with human population biology.

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  • Rosetta, Lyliane, and C. G. Nicholas Mascie-Taylor, eds. 2009. Variability in human fertility. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Discusses the great variability among women in reproductive biology, as well as the changes that occur within individuals over the life span. Consideration is given to the effects of age and health on fecundity, and thus on successful reproduction.

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  • Stini, William A. 1975. Ecology and human adaptation. Dubuque, IA: W. C. Brown.

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    A concise overview of human adaptability, including a major chapter on “the human capacity to adjust”; the book provides a brief but fairly comprehensive introduction to the field.

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  • Stinson, Sara, Barry Bogin, Rebecca Huss-Ashmore, and Dennis O’Rourke, eds. 2000. Human biology: An evolutionary and biocultural perspective. New York: Wiley.

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    This edited volume provides a broad overview of human population biology for students who are upper-level undergraduates or graduate students. Several chapters cover topics in human adaptability, including adaptation to climate, infectious disease, nutritional evolution, energetics, and demography.

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Book Series

Several book series have examined topics related to human adaptability, with some dealing with general issues of adaptability while others focus on very specific issues in the field. Cambridge Studies in Biological and Evolutionary Anthropology is a major series of books related to human adaptability, with sixty-one titles as of 2011. Society for the Study of Human Biology Symposium Series includes volumes based on collections of papers from the annual symposium sponsored by the SSHB. Oxford’s Research Monographs on Human Population Biology provides in-depth presentations of specific studies in human biology.

  • Cambridge Studies in Biological and Evolutionary Anthropology Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    This series includes many volumes devoted to aspects of human adaptability. The volumes are either edited or authored by one or two individuals, providing a synthesis of research in a given area of specialization. Some recent volumes include The Human Biology of Pastoral Populations, Human Biology of Afro-Caribbean Populations, Biological Aspects of Human Migration, and Western Diseases: An Evolutionary Perspective.

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    • Research Monographs on Human Population Biology. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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      This is a series of books published by Oxford University Press on specific studies related to human population biology. Two of the titles are The Solomon Islands Project: A Long-Term Study of Health, Human Biology, and Culture Change and Migration and Health in a Small Society: The Case of Tokelau.

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      • Society for the Study of Human Biology Symposium Series. London: Taylor & Francis.

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        This is a series of edited volumes produced from the annual symposia sponsored by the SSHB. These volumes are made up of individual articles that review sub-areas within the general topic of the volume. Titles include Childhood Obesity: Contemporary Issues; Medicine and Evolution: Current Applications, Future Prospects; The Changing Face of Disease: Implications for Society; and Isolation, Migration and Health.

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        Journals

        There are several journals that focus on human biology and adaptability. Articles on human adaptability are also found in general science journals such as Science, Nature, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. More specific journals for human biology include the American Journal of Human Biology, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Annals of Human Biology, Collegium Anthropologium, Evolutionary Anthropology, Human Biology: The International Journal of Population Genetics and Anthropology, Journal of Human Ecology, and Journal of Physiological Anthropology .

        History

        Human adaptability can be traced back to antiquity, including the writings of the Hippocratic school, which held that human variability was caused by environmental factors. Buffon 1749–1788, and later Darwin 1871, continued the idea of the importance of adaptability to the environment as a characteristic of our species. In the early 20th century, Franz Boas’s work with immigrants showed that human traits were changeable over generations (Boas 1912). Human adaptability developed into its modern incarnation during the International Biological Programme (IBP) in the 1960s and 1970s, largely through the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme, organized by UNESCO in cooperation with the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the IBP. These programs took ecosystem-level approaches to ecology and included studies directed specifically at humans. Adolph 1947, a volume on human adaptation to hot, dry environments, is a classic early work, while compilations of early work during the IBP era include Baker and Weiner 1966, Hiernaux 1968, and Weiner 1965, which draws on the earlier research by human physiologists and biological anthropologists. The first edition of Harrison, et al. 1964, a classic textbook in human biology, also stems from this period. An important article that explicitly deals with the history of the field is Little and Garruto 2000.

        • Adolph, Edward F. 1947. Physiology of man in the desert. New York: Wiley Interscience.

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          This early book takes a comprehensive look at adaptive challenges to humans living in desert environments, and the biological adaptations that people exhibit in these environments.

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        • Baker, Paul T., and J. S. Weiner, eds. 1966. The biology of human adaptability. Oxford: Clarendon.

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          An early compilation of reviews of studies in human adaptability, based on geographical regions of the world. The regions include Africa, America, Asia, Australia, Circumpolar, and High Altitudes.

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        • Boas, Franz. 1912. Changes in the bodily form of descendants of immigrants. American Anthropologist 14:530–562.

          DOI: 10.1525/aa.1912.14.3.02a00080Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Boas’s groundbreaking report on his research that showed that the offspring of immigrants had body proportions more similar to people in the host country than to their ancestors, thus demonstrating the plasticity of human traits.

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        • Buffon, Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de. 1749–1788. Histoire naturelle générale et particulière, avec la description du cabinet du roi. Paris: l’Imprimerie Royale.

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          The classic multivolume work Natural History by the French naturalist includes sections on humans that explain human variability as a consequence of adaptation to the environment.

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        • Darwin, Charles. 1871. The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. London: John Murray.

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          In this classic book, Darwin applied his theory of evolution to Homo sapiens, explaining human variation as being the result of selection, both from environmental adaptation and from sexual selection.

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        • Harrison, G. Ainsworth, J. S. Weiner, J. M. Tanner, and N. A. Barnicott. 1964. Human biology: An introduction to human evolution, variation and growth. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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          The first edition of a classic textbook that brought human adaptability studies to the attention of a wide audience.

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        • Hiernaux, J. 1968. La diversité humaine en Afrique subsaharienne. Brussels: Institut de Sociologie de l’Université Libre de Bruxelles.

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          Presents information on the biological characteristics of populations throughout Africa, examining geographic distribution of characteristics and frequency distributions of the traits within the populations. Hiernaux examines the correlation of traits with each other and with environmental factors, attempting to explain the distributions in adaptive terms.

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        • Little, Michael A., and Ralph M. Garruto. 2000. Human adaptability research into the beginning of the third millennium. Human Biology 72.1: 179–199.

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          A summing up, in brief, of the results of human adaptability research from the early 1960s until 2000, and also an assessment of the current status of the field and where it is likely to be going in the future.

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        • Weiner, J. S. 1965. International Biological Programme: Guide to the human adaptability proposals. London: International Council for Scientific Unions Special Committee for the International Biological Programme.

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          A compendium of the various human adaptability studies that were undertaken as part of the International Biological Programme.

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        Thermoregulation

        One of the major areas of study within human adaptability is how humans cope with extremes of temperature. Many populations are exposed to one or more of cold, dry heat, or humid heat, at least seasonally. Adaptations to cold include creating a warm microenvironment through cultural and behavioral means, such as the use of clothing, shelters, fire, avoidance of getting wet, and other measures, as detailed in Steegmann 1983 and Snodgrass, et al. 2007. Although these adaptations are usually quite robust, there are instances when people are exposed to cold microenvironments, and at those times physiological adjustments must be made, including shivering, movement of blood into deeper blood vessels to aid insulation, use of body fat as an insulator, and maximization of the ratio of body volume to surface area, as summarized in Launay and Savourey 2009 and Makinen 2010. In dry heat, adaptations are mostly the reverse, such as maximizing convective and evaporative cooling, and, biologically, sweating and moving blood preferentially into superficial blood vessels. In humid heat, evaporation is less effective as a means to cool the microenvironment or the body, and thus convective cooling becomes paramount, adaptations described in detail in Kerslake 1972 and Hanna and Brown 1983. It is the elderly, the very young, and the poor who are most at risk. In a study of mortality rates in fifty US cities, it was found that extremely cold weather led to an increase in death rates of 1.6 percent, while extreme heat waves increased death rates by 5.7 percent; similar information is found in Kovats and Hajat 2007 and Pandolf and Bure 2001–2002.

        • Hanna, Joel M., and Daniel E. Brown. 1983. Human heat tolerance: An anthropological perspective. Annual Review of Anthropology 12:259–284.

          DOI: 10.1146/annurev.an.12.100183.001355Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          A broad overview of cultural and biological adaptations to both hot-dry and warm-humid conditions.

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        • Kerslake, D. McK. 1972. The stress of hot environments. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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          A classic volume on human adaptation to extremes of heat. The book examines features of the environment that affect heat adaptation, including temperature, humidity, radiation, and wind speed, and how these environmental features interact in causing stress.

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        • Kovats, R. Sari, and Shakoor Hajat. 2007. Heat stress and public health: A critical review. Annual Review of Public Health 29:41–55.

          DOI: 10.1146/annurev.publhealth.29.020907.090843Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Examines the impact of heat exposure on health, detailing behavioral and occupational factors that are related to exposure. Discusses the possible impact of global warming on future risk from heat stress.

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        • Launay, Jean-Claude, and Gustave Savourey. 2009. Cold adaptations. Industrial Health 47.3: 221–227.

          DOI: 10.2486/indhealth.47.221Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          A review of the various types of physiological adaptations to cold exposure, and how these adaptations are based on characteristics of the exposure, as well as on body composition, diet, and physical activity.

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        • Makinen, Tina Maria. 2010. Different types of cold adaptation in humans. Frontiers in Bioscience S2:1047–1067.

          DOI: 10.2741/S117Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Reviews knowledge about the types of physiological responses to cold during acclimatization, and discusses the degree to which these responses are adaptive.

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        • Pandolf, Kent B., and R. Bure, eds. 2001–2002. Medical aspects of harsh environments. 2 vols. Falls Church, VA: Office of the Surgeon General, US Army.

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          Surveys human physiological responses during exposure to temperature and other physical extremes, from both environmental and behavioral causes, such as through exercise in the heat.

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        • Planalp, Jack M. 1971. Heat stress and culture in North India. Special Technical Report. Natick, MA: US Army Institute of Environmental Medicine.

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          A monograph that describes both cultural and behavioral adaptations to heat in a region of northern India where residents are exposed seasonally both to dry and humid heat.

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        • Snodgrass, J. Josh, Mark V. Sorensen, Larissa A. Tarskaia, and William R. Leonard. 2007. Adaptive dimensions of health research among indigenous Siberians. American Journal of Human Biology 19.2: 165–180.

          DOI: 10.1002/ajhb.20624Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Reviews evidence for elevated basal metabolic rates (BMRs) in native Siberian populations as an adaptation to cold temperatures and shows that higher BMRs are correlated with higher blood pressure but with lowered LDL cholesterol rates in these people.

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        • Steegmann, A. Theodore, Jr. ed. 1983. Boreal forest adaptations: The northern Algonkians. New York: Plenum.

          DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4613-3649-5Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          A summary of a multidisciplinary study concerning the ecology of Algonquian Indians living in the subarctic region of northern Ontario. Emphasis is placed on overcoming environmental hazards, including cold temperatures, and acquiring resources.

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        Adaptation to Solar Radiation and High-Altitude Hypoxia

        Solar radiation contains ultraviolet light, which is potentially damaging to the human skin, causing sunburns and, in chronic exposure, skin cancer. This radiation is also important for the synthesis of needed nutrients in the skin. Adaptations to variable radiation levels involve skin color variation, as noted in Robins 1991 and Jablonski 2007. Populations living in high mountain environments are exposed to high levels of UV radiation, but they also are exposed to low ambient barometric pressure, and thus the amount of oxygen available for metabolism is reduced. Since there is little that can be done behaviorally to adapt to high-altitude hypoxia, short of wearing oxygen tanks or staying in pressurized environments, humans have principally relied on biological adaptations, as outlined in Baker and Little 1976 and West, et al. 2007. Individual adaptations to hypoxic stress includes genetic (Brutsaert 2007; Julian, et al. 2009) developmental (Frisancho 2009, Greksa 2006), and acclimatizational processes. Populations long exposed to high altitudes, such as those in Tibet and the Andes, have evolved to better cope with this stress than people from lowland regions. Recent evidence presented by Beall 2007 shows that Tibetans and Andeans have independently evolved separate means for adapting to hypoxia, with Tibetan adaptations primarily affecting their respiratory system, and Andean adaptations involving the blood and circulatory system. The increased exposure of people to high altitudes due to recreation and work has increased the number of cases of altitude illnesses, including sometimes fatal cases of pulmonary and cerebral edema.

        • Baker, Paul T., and Michael A. Little, eds. 1976. Man in the Andes: A multidisciplinary study of high-altitude Quechua. Stroudsburg, PA: Dowden, Hutchinson, and Ross.

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          A compilation of the extensive studies done by Baker and his collaborators on the Quechua population in the highlands of Peru. The volume covers studies of the physiological adaptations to hypoxia, but also analyzes how the Andeans have adapted to cold and other stressors (nutritional, exercise, etc.) in their mountain environment.

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        • Beall, Cynthia M. 2007. Two routes to functional adaptation: Tibetan and Andean high-altitude natives. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 104, Suppl. 1: 8655–8660.

          DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0701985104Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Details the different modes of coping with high-altitude hypoxia in Andeans and Tibetans that have led to enhanced functional adaptation. Tibetans have greater ventilation rates than Andeans, while Andeans have higher hematocrits, a measure of red blood cell density.

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        • Brutsaert, T. D. 2007. Population genetic aspects and phenotypic plasticity of ventilatory responses in high altitude natives. Respiratory and Physiological Neurobiology 158.2–3: 151–160.

          DOI: 10.1016/j.resp.2007.03.004Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Reviews research results that partition genetic versus acclimatization differences among individuals from different populations in their responses to high-altitude hypoxic conditions.

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        • Frisancho, A. Roberto. 2009. Developmental adaptation: Where we go from here. American Journal of Human Biology 21.5: 694–703.

          DOI: 10.1002/ajhb.20891Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Review of research on human adaptation to high altitude that takes place during the developmental period, as opposed to short-term acclimatization or genetic adaptation. Developmental adaptations are also related to risk for type 2 diabetes in individuals who have undergone stress during critical early periods of development.

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        • Greksa, Lawrence P. 2006. Growth and development of Andean high-altitude residents. High Altitude Medicine & Biology 7.2: 116–124.

          DOI: 10.1089/ham.2006.7.116Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Review of research on the growth and development of children at high altitudes, emphasizing work done with native Andeans. There is a slight stunting of growth in stature, but an increase in development of lung capacities among the high-altitude peoples.

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        • Jablonski, Nina G. 2007. Skin: A natural history. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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          A wide-ranging volume on the human skin, including its function, that contains large sections on skin-color variation as an adaptive trait in humans.

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        • Julian, Colleen Glyde, Megan J. Wilson, and Lorna G. Moore. 2009. Evolutionary adaptation to high altitude: A view from in utero. American Journal of Human Biology 21.5: 614–622.

          DOI: 10.1002/ajhb.20900Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          A review of studies on adaptations to high altitude during pregnancy and early development, with emphasis on the higher birth weight of infants born at high altitude from native populations compared with infants whose ancestry is from lowland populations.

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        • Robins, Ashley H. 1991. Biological perspectives on human pigmentation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

          DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511600463Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          A detailed overview of the distribution of human skin color in global populations, including explanations for the adaptive value of such variation.

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        • West, John B., Robert B. Schoene, and James S. Milledge. 2007. High altitude medicine and physiology. 4th ed. London: Hodder Arnold.

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          An integrated text on the physiology and health effects of acute exposure to high-altitude hypoxia and on the treatment of mountain sicknesses.

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        Nutrition and Energetics

        Research in human adaptability has examined how individuals and populations have coped with nutritional problems, with the results of these studies appearing in such standard texts as Blaxter and Waterlow 1985; Goodman, et al. 2000; and Johnston 1987. An excellent book focused on a multidisciplinary study of a population living under severe nutritional stress is Little and Leslie 1999. Research has focused on such concerns as seasonality of food supplies, famines, and various forms of malnutrition. In essence, much of ecological anthropology as a whole focuses on how people obtain resources needed to survive, with this area of human adaptability focused more on the biological adaptations and effects of nutritional stress. Human connections to energy flow systems, as well as the unique features of human energetics, have been summarized in books such as Little and Morren 1976 and, more recently, Ulijaszek 2005. Human biologists have taken evolutionary perspectives on nutritional issues, as exemplified by Cordain, et al. 2005 and Luca, et al. 2010, as well as Ungar and Teaford 2002.

        • Blaxter, Sir K., and J. C. Waterlow, eds. 1985. Nutritional adaptation in man. London: John Libbey.

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          Chapters cover physiological adaptations to various forms of malnutrition in humans.

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        • Cordain, Loren, S. Boyd Eaton, Anthony Sebastian, et al. 2005. Origins and evolution of the Western diet: Health implications for the 21st century. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 81.2: 341–354.

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          Discusses the health implications of the broad changes in diet that have occurred since the development of agriculture, and the possible disconnect between the evolutionary dietary adaptations of humans to our “natural” diets during the majority of our evolutionary past, when all humans were foragers, and our current diet.

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        • Goodman, Alan H., Darna L. Dufour, and Gretel H. Pelto, eds. 2000. Nutritional anthropology: Biocultural perspectives on food and nutrition. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.

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          Collection of diverse articles covering broad theoretical areas of nutritional anthropology.

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        • Johnston, Francis E., ed. 1987. Nutritional anthropology. New York: Alan R. Liss.

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          Compilation of reviews on specific aspects of nutrition, including evolutionary and ecological perspectives, methodology, and aspects of nutrition specific to different periods of the life cycle.

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        • Little, Michael A., and Paul W. Leslie, eds. 1999. Turkana herders of the dry savanna: Ecology and biobehavioral response of nomads to an uncertain environment. Research Monographs on Human Population Biology. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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          Integrates results of research done over many years in studying how the Turkana people, pastoralists in an arid area of East Africa, adapt to low and variable food availability.

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        • Little, Michael A., and George E. B. Morren Jr. 1976. Ecology, energetics, and human variability. Dubuque, IA: W. C. Brown.

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          A concise account of how human groups in various biomes adapt to their environments, with emphasis placed on adaptation to natural energy flow systems.

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        • Luca, F., G. H. Perry, and A. Di Rienzo. 2010. Evolutionary adaptations to dietary changes. Annual Review of Nutrition 30:291–314.

          DOI: 10.1146/annurev-nutr-080508-141048Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Review article that describes the changes in diet that occurred during the evolution of humans from hominid ancestors, followed by a discussion of the evidence for specific genetic adaptations that have occurred to deal with these changes.

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        • Ulijaszek, Stanley J. 2005. Human energetics in biological anthropology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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          Presents an overview of the use of energy in human societies, examining energy production, consumption, and expenditure. The book uses an ecological approach, comparing the various subsistence strategies used by populations and considering the ability to achieve energy balance and adequate nutrition under diverse environmental conditions.

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        • Ungar, Peter S., and Mark F. Teaford, eds. 2002. Human diet: Its origin and evolution. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.

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          Includes chapters covering various issues in the determination of what made up ancient human diets, and the effect of these diets on how humans deal with the rich diets prevalent in modern societies.

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        Infectious Disease

        Another environmental stress with which humans must cope is the presence of pathogens. There are intricate cultural and behavioral measures used in human populations to prevent or treat infectious disease. However, humans are often forced to rely on their biological buffers to deal with pathogens, and immune responses are a vital part of the adaptive mechanism. The immune system itself is affected by other environmental stresses, with individuals who are undergoing nutritional or psychological stress often suffering from decreased immune system activity. Thus, disease resistance is a complex response that is affected by other adaptive concerns, including poverty (Farmer 1999). Human adaptability studies examine infectious disease as an aspect of a complex environment, as presented in the classic text Burnett and White 1972, and in Keim and Wagner 2009 and Sattenspiel 2000. There is evidence that early development has long-term effects on disease susceptibility, as noted in Burdge and Lilycrop 2010. Human biologists have taken historical and evolutionary approaches to human disease adaptation, as noted in such books as Ewald 1994 and McNeill 1976, and in the review article Pearce-Duvet 2006.

        • Burdge, Graham C., and Karen A. Lillycrop. 2010. Nutrition, epigenetics, and developmental plasticity: Implications for understanding human disease. Annual Review of Nutrition 30:315–339.

          DOI: 10.1146/annurev.nutr.012809.104751Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Review of the effects of early development on disease susceptibility later in life. The article includes a discussion of epigenetic factors involved in developmental aspects of disease risk, including methylation of DNA and modification of histones.

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        • Burnett, Macfarlane, and David O. White. 1972. Natural history of infectious disease. 4th ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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          First published in 1940, this broad survey presents the basis of infectious disease causation, including types of pathogens, and how characteristics of these agents affect disease transmission in human populations. The book also examines specific infectious diseases that have had a major impact on human groups, as well as the means used to prevent and treat these diseases.

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        • Ewald, Paul W. 1994. Evolution of infectious disease. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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          Classic book presenting the study of disease in an evolutionary context, examining the effects of intrahost selection of pathogens, transmission modes and rates, and the change in disease virulence over time.

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        • Farmer, Paul. 1999. Infections and inequalities: The modern plagues. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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          A sweeping overview of the role of poverty in disease. The book incorporates case studies and discusses malnutrition, unsanitary conditions, and inadequate access to health care as major challenges that cause those living in poverty to be at high risk for infectious diseases.

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        • Keim, Paul S., and David M. Wagner. 2009. Humans and evolutionary and ecologic forces shaped the phylogeography of recently emerged diseases. Nature Reviews Microbiology 7:813–821.

          DOI: 10.1038/nrmicro2219Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Global markets and modern transportation systems have greatly increased the rate of spread of many infectious diseases. Numerous strains of bacteria have become adapted to take advantage of these transport opportunities. This review examines the recent evolution and spread of bacteria that cause plague, anthrax, and tularemia.

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        • McNeill, William H. 1976. Plagues and peoples. Garden City, NY: Anchor.

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          Sweeping survey of the effects of disease and population movements on world history. Examines the effects of contacts between populations and the spread of infectious diseases.

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        • Pearce-Duvet, Jessica M. C. 2006. The origin of human pathogens: Evaluating the role of agriculture and domestic animals in the evolution of human disease. Biological Reviews 81.3: 369–382.

          DOI: 10.1017/S1464793106007020Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Discusses possible reasons for the increase in zoonotic diseases following the development of animal domestication, and the subsequent concentration of animal pathogens in contact with humans.

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        • Sattenspiel, Lisa. 2000. Tropical environments, human activities, and the transmission of infectious diseases. American Journal of Physical Anthropology S43:3–31.

          DOI: 10.1002/1096-8644(2000)43:31+%3C3::AID-AJPA2%3E3.0.CO;2-ZSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Discusses reasons for the greater impact of infectious diseases in the tropics than elsewhere, including high levels of biodiversity in hosts, vectors, and pathogens. The article then focuses on mosquitoes as vectors of many important infectious diseases and examines human-mosquito interactions. Zoonotic, waterborne, respiratory, and sexually transmitted diseases are also discussed.

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        • Trevathan, Wenda R., Euclid O. Smith, and James J. McKenna, eds. 2008. Evolutionary medicine and health: New perspectives. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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          A collection of essays taking evolutionary perspectives on specific health problems in human populations, including infectious diseases and nutrition.

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        Growth and Development

        The importance of early development for human adaptation to the environment, explicated in Cameron and Demerath 2002, has led to an emphasis in many adaptability studies on developmental processes. Humans are at most risk for many environmental stresses at early ages, when coping resources are not fully developed. In addition, selective forces tend to be strongest at early ages, before successful reproduction occurs, and growth disruption is a distinctive sign of maladaptation at the population level. Classic texts like Bogin 1999b and Tanner 1962 present information on the general human growth pattern, while the integrative summary of variation in growth throughout the world in Eveleth and Tanner 1990 provides a broad perspective on environmental influences on growth patterns. Cameron 2007 describes the acute effects of poverty and stress on growth processes. An evolutionary perspective on growth is provided by Bogin 1999a.

        • Bogin, Barry. 1999a. Evolutionary perspective on human growth. Annual Review of Anthropology 28:109–153.

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          The review compares human growth patterns with those of other primates. It examines the special nature of the juvenile phase of the life cycle, and discusses the adolescent growth spurt, which is found in humans but not in other primates.

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        • Bogin, Barry. 1999b. Patterns of human growth. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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          A general overview of the growth process, evolutionary perspectives on the life cycle, variability in growth patterns among populations, and the environmental and genetic contributions to growth.

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        • Cameron, Noël. 2007. Human growth in adverse environments. American Journal of Human Biology 19.5: 615–621.

          DOI: 10.1002/ajhb.20661Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          This paper examines the three phases of the growth process in humans (infancy, childhood, and adolescence), and how environmental stresses change the normative pattern that stems from these phases.

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        • Cameron, Noël, and Ellen W. Demerath. 2002. Critical periods in human growth: Relationships to chronic disease. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 119, Suppl. 35: 159–184.

          DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.10183Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          This review paper presents evidence for critical periods during development during which growth patterns are highly sensitive to environmental stimuli. Long-term effects, including future health risk, occur when disruptions take place during these critical periods.

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        • Eveleth, Phyllis B., and James M. Tanner. 1990. Worldwide variation in human growth. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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          This book brings together data on growth from populations throughout the world, permitting analysis of the effects of geographical location on growth patterns.

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        • Tanner, James M. 1962. Growth at adolescence. 2d ed. Oxford: Blackwell Science Limited.

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          This is the standard text on the pattern and processes of human growth. The book describes growth patterns, based upon information from longitudinal studies, particularly the Harpenden Growth Study in England.

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        Modernization and Adiposity

        Contemporary humans largely live in modernized settings, where demands for physical activity are low but high-caloric foods are easily available. This combination of factors has led to a sharp increase in adiposity, which in turn has led to increased morbidity and mortality from type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (Pollard 2008). The field of human adaptability provides insight into these challenges, using ecological and evolutionary perspectives. There is a particular concern with the rapidly increasing prevalence of childhood obesity, as noted in Cameron, et al. 2006, which can have long-term effects on health (Kuzawa and Quinn 2009). Papers such as Hill and Peters 1998 and Ulijaszek and Lofink 2007 discuss the environmental causes of the obesity epidemic, while other human biologists have examined the evolutionary underpinnings of the problem (see, for example, Wells 2010, Zimmet and Thomas 2003). People in certain populations are at high risk for obesity, particularly those who are undergoing rapid modernization, such as the intensively studied Samoans (Baker, et al. 1986; McGarvey 2001).

        • Baker, Paul T., Joel M. Hanna, and Thelma S. Baker, eds. 1986. The changing Samoans: Behaviour and health in transition. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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          Surveys the comprehensive studies on the biology and health of Samoans in Samoa, in American Samoa, and among immigrant communities of Samoans in Hawaii and the continental United States. Several articles focus on the increase in risk factors for chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes in these populations.

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        • Cameron, Noël, Nicholas G. Norgan, and George T. H. Ellison, eds. 2006. Childhood obesity: Contemporary issues. Boca Raton, FL: CRC.

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          A collection of articles on the growing epidemic of childhood obesity in modern environments, including research on causes and the difficulties in treatment.

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        • Hill, James O., and John C. Peters. 1998. Environmental contributions to the obesity epidemic. Science 280.5368: 1371–1374.

          DOI: 10.1126/science.280.5368.1371Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Demonstrates that obesity and obesity-related diseases in the modernized world are caused by increased dietary intake and decreased physical activity. Obesity is difficult to treat effectively, and thus the authors espouse preventative programs, despite their difficulty in implementation.

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        • Kuzawa, Christopher W., and Elizabeth A. Quinn. 2009. Developmental origins of adult function and health: Evolutionary hypotheses. Annual Review of Anthropology 38:131–147.

          DOI: 10.1146/annurev-anthro-091908-164350Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Broad review of research on the effects of environmental conditions in fetuses and young infants on their disease risk later in life.

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        • McGarvey, Stephen T. 2001. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors in Samoa and American Samoa, 1990–95. Pacific Health Dialogue 8.1: 157–162.

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          Summarizes some of the extensive research done by McGarvey in Samoa during a period of rapid modernization, including the resulting increase in cardiovascular disease prevalence.

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        • Pollard, Tessa M. 2008. Western diseases: An evolutionary perspective. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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          Explores the increase in chronic diseases in modernized societies, using an evolutionary perspective. The book examines such chronic diseases as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, reproductive cancers, asthma and allergies, and depression, discussing why these diseases have become so common.

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        • Ulijaszek, Stanley J., and Hayley Lofink. 2007. Obesity in biocultural perspective. Annual Review of Anthropology 35:337–360.

          DOI: 10.1146/annurev.anthro.35.081705.123301Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Review of studies carried out on the effect of modernization on drastic increases in the risk for obesity throughout the world.

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        • Wells, Jonathan C. K. 2010. The evolutionary biology of human body fatness: Thrift and control. Cambridge Studies in Biological and Evolutionary Anthropology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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          Synthesis of information about how body fat is regulated, functions, and develops. Examines ideas about the evolutionary processes that led to the physiology of human body fat, giving an important perspective on the obesity epidemic in modern humans.

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        • Zimmet, P., and C. R. Thomas. 2003. Genotype, obesity and cardiovascular disease—Has technical and social advancement outstripped evolution? Journal of Internal Medicine 254.2: 114–125.

          DOI: 10.1046/j.1365-2796.2003.01170.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Relates the conflict between human biology, which is evolutionarily adapted to hunter-gatherer conditions, and the modern environment, where food is plentiful and calorie-dense. The resultant high rates of obesity have triggered an epidemic of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

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        Adaptation to Psychosocial and Urban Stress

        Research in human adaptability also involves consideration of how humans have adapted to the special circumstances found in modern settings, including living at high population densities, coping with occupational and urban stressors, and exposure to elevated levels of psychosocial stress, as noted in Boyden 1970, an edited volume. Research has examined the presence and effects of stress in people who have rapidly modernized (Brown 1981, McDade 2002) or who reside in urban environments (Harrison 1995, James and Brown 1997). Stress is seen as having both physiological and psychological components (Selye 1973), and studies of stress often employ measures of both of these components, as detailed in Ice and James 2007. People are also exposed to different kinds of environmental pollution than are found in nonmodernized settings, as noted in Schell and Ulijaszek 1999. As with the problem of obesity, these circumstances are relatively new to humans, and hence there has not been sufficient time for evolutionary adaptations to develop. There are serious health consequences to stress exposure in modern settings, as noted in Shephard and Rode 2008.

        • Boyden, Stephen V., ed. 1970. The impact of civilisation on the biology of man: Papers from a symposium held on 11–12 September 1968 at Canberra. Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press.

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          Classic compilation of reviews on the biological effects of changes in the environment from before the origins of Agriculture to modern times. The volume emphasizes health effects, but also examines cultural adaptations to the changed conditions faced by humans. Papers were presented at the Symposium on the Impact of Civilisation on the Biology of Man, sponsored by the Australian Academy of Science.

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        • Brown, Daniel E. 1981. General stress in anthropological fieldwork. American Anthropologist 83.1: 74–92.

          DOI: 10.1525/aa.1981.83.1.02a00050Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Overview of the application of methods for the biological measurement of psychosocial stress to understand adaptive processes in modernizing populations.

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        • Harrison, G. Ainsworth. 1995. The human biology of the English village. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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          Summarizes research that applied human adaptability methods to the study of a village in England. The studies included use of biological measures of psychosocial stress and its relation to many social factors.

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        • Ice, Gillian H., and Gary D. James, eds. 2007. Measuring stress in humans: A practical guide to the field. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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          Brings together methodologies for measuring stress that are applicable for anthropological fieldwork. Chapters cover assessment of stress levels through biomarkers of the sympathetic-adrenal medullary system, the pituitary-adrenal cortical system, blood pressure, emotional and behavioral responses, and immune function.

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        • James, Gary D., and Daniel E. Brown. 1997. The biological stress response and lifestyle: Catecholamines and blood pressure. Annual Review of Anthropology 26:313–335.

          DOI: 10.1146/annurev.anthro.26.1.313Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Review of studies that have used blood pressure and the stress hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine as measures of stress, including their relation to basic aspects of lifestyle in modernized environments.

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        • McDade, Thomas W. 2002. Status incongruity in Samoan youth: A biocultural analysis of culture change, stress, and immune function. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 16.2: 123–150.

          DOI: 10.1525/maq.2002.16.2.123Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Examines the effect of modernization on status in Samoan adolescents, and how these changes are related to biological measures of immune function and stress.

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        • Schell, Lawrence M., and Stanley J. Ulijaszek, eds. 1999. Urbanism, health and human biology in industrialised countries. Society for the Study of Human Biology Symposium Series 40. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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          Includes chapters on epidemiology, poverty and health, and prospects for the future. Cities are viewed both as a cultural means of adapting to the environment, and as a setting with its own unique stressors to which humans must adapt.

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        • Selye, Hans. 1973. The evolution of the stress concept. American Scientist 61:692–699.

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          Review of Selye’s ideas about general stress, particularly stress that involves the pituitary-adrenal cortical axis.

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        • Shephard, Roy J., and Andris Rode. 2008. The health consequences of ‘modernization’: Evidence from circumpolar peoples. Cambridge Studies in Biological and Evolutionary Anthropology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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          Summarizes major cultural, biological, and ecological adaptations made by native peoples to life in the Arctic, and then examines the effects of changes due to modernization on these adaptations. First published in 1996.

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        LAST MODIFIED: 01/11/2012

        DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199766567-0047

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