A Delicate Balance: Trade-offs, Strategies & Mechanisms of Female Reproduction

Monday March 30, 2020 (4:00 PM – 5:00 PM)

Virginia Vitzthum

Professor of Anthropology & Senior Scientist, Kinsey Institute,
Indiana University, Bloomington

Malthus believed humans to be naturally and consistently highly fertile, with disease and food shortage being the primary factors limiting human population growth. We now know that the human female reproductive system is dynamically responsive to signals indicative of environmental, psychosocial, and individual conditions, with substantial natural (non-pathological) variation in functioning from one ovarian cycle to another, from one woman to another within a population, and from one population to another. I’ll discuss the theoretical basis and empirical evidence for our current understanding of the sources of this natural variation including proximate biological mechanisms by which past and current conditions mediate fertility across individuals and populations. Viewed through an evolutionary lens, otherwise surprising findings regarding fecundity, reproductive hormone levels, ovulation, early pregnancy loss, and lifetime reproductive success make elegant sense.


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