Journal of Biosocial Science

Research Article

The ecology of birth seasonality among agriculturalists in central Africa

Robert C. Baileya1, Mark R. Jenikea1, Peter T. Ellisona2, Gillian R. Bentleya3, Alisa M. Harrigana2a4 and Nadine R. Peacocka1

a1 University of California, Los Angeles

a2 Harvard University

a3 Pennsylvania State University

a4 University of Michigan, USA


The Lese are subsistence farmers living in the Ituri Forest of north-east Zaïre. They exhibit significant birth seasonality, with lowest frequencies of conception when food production is least, nutritional status is low and ovarian function, as measured by salivary steroid hormone levels, is reduced. Efe pygmy foragers, who live in the same geographical area but are less dependent on cultivated foods and have a more flexible life style, do not exhibit frequent fluctuations in nutritional status nor significant birth seasonality. These findings support a model of birth seasonality relating climatic variables to variation in fertility through a causal chain linking rainfall to food production to energy balance to ovarian function to fertility. The model, which emphasises an ecological approach to the study of human reproduction, should have broad applicability since seasonality of food production and energy balance is widespread geographically and across a wide variety of economies and cultures.

(Received June 20 1991)