Nearly all societies share food beyond the household. Yet foods are not shared randomly: certain foods are more likely to be shared after acquisition than others. Typically such foods include the meat from large game animals or highly valued resources such as honey, while foods that come in rather small packages or are acquired with little variability tend to be rarely shared. Among Martu, hunters (both male and female) who acquired sand monitor lizards kept more for their families to eat after sharing distributions than did hunters who acquired kangaroo. But those who are more productive or skilled in sand monitor hunting share more of their catch, taking home no more than anyone else who went out hunting that day. While sand monitor hunting is more predictable, and rewards hunters more than kangaroo, it still is an important way to build social networks if a hunter can produce enough to share to many others. Kangaroo hunting, on the other hand provides few consumption benefits to the hunter, but much prestige because it allows hunters to give large shares of meat to many others.

Representative Publications

  1. 1.Bird, R. B., Scelza, B., Bird, D. W., & Smith, E. A. (2011). The hierarchy of virtue: mutualism, altruism and signaling in Martu women’s cooperative hunting. Evolution and Human Behavior, in press,  doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2011.05.007

  2. 2.Bird, D. and R. Bliege Bird  (2008)  Competing to be leaderless: Food sharing and magnanimity among Martu aborigines.  In: The Emergence Of Leadership: Transitions In Decision Making From Small-Scale To Middle-Range Societies.  J. Kantner, K. Vaughn and J. Eerkins, eds. (in press). Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.

  3. 3.Scelza, B. and R. Bliege Bird  (2008) Group structure and female cooperative networks in Australia’s Western Desert.  Human Nature 19:231-248.

  4. 4.Smith, E.A. and R. Bliege Bird  (2005)  Costly signaling and cooperative behavior. In: Herbert Gintis, Samuel Bowles, Robert Boyd, and Ernst Fehr (eds.) Moral Sentiments and Material Interests: On the Foundations of Cooperation in Economic Life, pp 115-148. MIT Press: Cambridge.

  5. 5.Bliege Bird, R., D.W. Bird, Geoff Kushnick, and E.A. Smith (2002) Risk and reciprocity in Meriam food sharing. Evolution and Human Behavior 23:297-321.

  6. 6.Smith, E.A. and R. Bliege Bird (2000) Turtle hunting and tombstone opening: public generosity as costly signaling. Evolution and Human Behavior 21:245-261.

Indigenous fire and landscape ecology

In nearly all societies around the world, labor is gendered: some economic pursuits tend to be within the realm of men (metal-working, outdoor construction jobs, hunting large game animals), while others are dominated by women (social work, nursing, domestic cooking, and collecting plant foods). While some hypotheses for this pattern argue for an economy of scale in household labor, where men and women specialize on tasks that each can do most efficiently given their different constraints, it may be just as likely that there are other forces at work. We’ve investigated the hypothesis that gender differences might be the product of differential variance sensitivity: one or both genders are biasing subsistence decisions either toward more variable resource types that may function to ensure efficient advertisement of underlying qualities or toward less variable subsistence activities that increase the certainty of a given reward.

Representative Publications

  1. 1.Codding, B. F., R. Bliege Bird, and D. W. Bird. (2011) Provisioning offspring and others: risk–energy trade-offs and gender differences in hunter–gatherer foraging strategies. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

  2. 2.Bliege Bird, R. and D. Bird  (2008)  Why women hunt: risk and contemporary foraging in a Western Desert aboriginal community. Current Anthropology 49(4):655-693.

  3. 3.Bliege Bird, R.  (2007)  Fishing and the sexual division of labor among the Meriam.  American Anthropologist 109:442-451.

  4. 4.Bliege Bird, R., E.A. Smith, and D.W. Bird (2001) The hunting handicap: costly signaling in male foraging strategies. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 50:9-19.

Foraging and Gender

Representative Publications

  1. 1.Bliege Bird, R., Codding, B. F., Kauhanen, P. G., & Bird, D. W. (2012). Aboriginal hunting buffers climate-driven fire-size variability in Australia’s spinifex grasslands. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(26), 10287–10292.

  2. 2.Bliege Bird, R., D.W. Bird, B. Codding, C. Parker, and J.H. Jones (2008) The fire stick farming hypothesis: anthropogenic fire mosaics, biodiversity and Australian aboriginal foraging strategies.  Proc Nat Acad Sci 105(39):14796-14801. (pdf)

  3. 3.Bird, D.W., R. Bliege Bird, and C.H. Parker  (2005)  Aboriginal burning regimes and hunting strategies in Australia’s Western Desert.  Human Ecology 33: 443-464.

Public Goods, Prestige and Sharing

Aboriginal burning in Australia has long been assumed to be a “resource management” strategy, but no quantitative tests of this hypothesis have ever been conducted. Our research team combines ethnographic observations of contemporary Aboriginal hunting and burning with satellite image analysis of anthropogenic and natural landscape structure to demonstrate the processes through which Aboriginal burning shapes arid-zone vegetational diversity. Our results clearly demonstrate that anthropogenic landscapes contain a greater diversity of successional stages than landscapes under a lightning fire regime, and differences are of scale, not of kind.