Center for Behavior, Institutions and the Environment / CBIE Working Papers / The Socioecology of Hunter-Gatherer Territorial Dynamics

The Socioecology of Hunter-Gatherer Territorial Dynamics


This paper contributes to the development of a theory of hunter-gatherer territorial dynamics. We investigate the impact of institutions (rules and norms) that restrict the use rights of territories and the storage of food on population-territory size dynamics. Our results indicate that the storage of food fundamentally alters population-territory size dynamics in hunter-gatherer societies. When societies store food, territory size is a sub-linear function of population. When societies do not store food, the function is approximately linear. The sub-linear scaling of population and territory size indicates that when societies store food, the foraging parties that comprise ethno-linguistic groups produce more food per unit of area and share ever more over-lapping subsistence ranges in response to population growth. This kind of non-linear population-territory size dynamic signals that coevolutionary processes initiated by different ways of constructing a niche generate diversity in hunter-gatherer societies. We suggest that the storage of food, initiated to cope with the short-term risk of a short-fall of food, has long-term consequences. The long-term consequence of food storage is a coevolutionary process in which storage favors lower future discount rates in a population and lower future discount rates favor more investment in storage as a response to increases in population rather than simply spreading out in space as populations who do not store food do under conditions of population growth. Our results are also suggestive that rules of territorial ownership modulate the effect of storage on population-territory size dynamics. Foraging parties within ethnic groups who recognize territorial ownership have less over-lapping subsistence ranges than groups who treat territories as open access. 
**Note: Supplementary Files are available upon request**

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Published April 15, 2015

Jacob Freeman, Utah State University

J. Marty Anderies, Arizona State University, School of Sustainability/School of Human Evolution and Social Change