Paul Leslie

Professor and Chair
Ph.D., Penn State, 1977
(919) 843-8978
301 Alumni Building

Research interests:
Biological Anthropology, Human Ecology, Demography, Population Genetics, Reproduction, East Africa.

Research & Activities:
My research concerns the relationship among the demographic, socioeconomic, and biological characteristics of human populations, in an ecological context. More specifically, my interests are:

Demography and reproduction: ecological and evolutionary perspectives on reproduction; biosocial determinants of fertility; modeling fertility decisions and reproductive strategies

Population biology/population genetics: interaction among social, demographic, and genetic structures of human populations; modeling complex mating structures

Sub-Saharan African pastoralism: human population ecology; population-environment interactions; demographic causes and consequences of changing subsistence patterns; cultural and biological responses to environmental fluctuations and uncertainty.

For more than 15 years, I have been studying the population ecology of Turkana pastoralists in northwest Kenya. This work is part of a larger, long term multidisciplinary study of the ecosystem of that region. The central questions of this project are 1) how do these nomads respond, behaviorally and biologically, to their harsh, fluctuating, unpredictable environment? 2) What effects do the human subsistence strategies have on the local environment? The demographic component of the project takes a biocultural approach. That is, it incorporates investigation of demonstrably important biological and environmental influences (e.g., nutrition, disease) on population replacement, but utilizes ethnographic methods to elucidate the values and cultural practices that shape the more proximate determinants of fertility and mortality. Another phase of this work has focused on reproductive ecology, with investigations of the relationships between Turkana health, nutrition, and lactation, on the one hand, and reproductive biology and fertility on the other.

Most recently, I have begun a study among Maasai in northern Tanzania. The general goal of the project is to clarify the mutual relationship between demography and subsistence patterns — that is, how household or extended family size and composition influence subsistence strategies, and how changes in subsistence in turn affect fertility, reproductive health, early mortality, and mobility and migration. In conjunction with additional ecological data (being collected in collaboration other anthropologists and ecologists), this work will contribute to an assessment of systemic connections among human population dynamics and changes in land use, environmental degradation, biodiversity, the viability of community based conservation, and human well-being.

Leslie, P.W. and J.T. McCabe (2013) Response diversity and resilience in social-ecological systems. Current Anthropology (forthcoming)

McCabe, J.T., P.W. Leslie, and L. DeLuca. (2010) Adopting cultivation to remain pastoralists: The diversification of Maasai livelihoods in northern Tanzania. Human Ecology 38(3):321-334.

Leslie, P.W. and M.A. Little (2003) Human biology and ecology: Variation in nature and the nature of variation. American Anthropologist.

Leslie, P.W. and B.P. Winterhalder (2002) Demographic consequences of unpredictability in fertility outcomes. American Journal of Human Biology 14: 168 183. Special issue on “Evolutionary Approaches to Population”.

Little, M.A. and P.W. Leslie, eds. (1999) Turkana Herders of the Dry Savanna. Ecology and Biobehavioral Response of Nomads to an Uncertain Environment. Oxford University Press.

Leslie, P.W., K.L. Campbell, M.A. Little, and C.S. Kigondu (1996) Evaluation of reproductive function in Turkana women with enzyme-immunoassays of urinary hormones in the field. Human Biology 68: 95-117.

Leslie, P.W., K.L. Campbell, and M.A. Little (1993) Pregnancy loss in nomadic and settled women in Turkana, Kenya: A prospective study. Human Biology 65:237-254.

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