Christina Giovas

Grant Type

Post PhD Research Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Simon Fraser U.

Grant number

Gr. 9409

Approve Date

April 18, 2017

Project Title

Giovas, Dr. Christina M. (Simon Fraser U.) To aid research on 'Advancing Niche Construction Models of Animal Translocation through Multi-Proxy Tests in the Prehistoric West Indies'

Preliminary abstract: While animal translocations are a common prehistoric phenomenon, their impact on human adaptation has received limited theoretical treatment from an evolutionary standpoint. Recently, archaeologists have suggested that the intentional introduction of animals to new environments constitutes niche construction, a form of behaviour in which organisms actively modify their habitat in self-favoring ways. This proposition remains untested for translocation due to the absence of a predictive model that specifies the mechanisms of natural selection involved and permits archaeological testing. The proposed research draws on human behavioral ecology to provide that model, the ideal free distribution, which predicts that the duration of human settlement in a location (a measure of successful adaptation) will be correlated with habitat quality and its effect on human fitness. Translocated animals may impact human fitness through their influence on habitat quality. This nine month project employs archaeological, isotope, and archaeofaunal data to test model-derived hypotheses in the prehistoric West Indies, where humans actively introduced animals in conjunction with island settlement. The significance of this research lies in its novel linking of human behavioral ecology and niche construction to formally test the adaptive significance of animal translocations. More broadly, it moves evolutionary approaches in archaeology and anthropology beyond current debates regarding the testability and explanatory power of niche construction models by providing a proximate mechanism that connects cultural niche construction to evolutionary processes and ultimate explanation. The conceptual framework employed in this research serves as a model approach for wider anthropological applications of niche construction, including those addressing the origins of agriculture and domestication.