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Where autonomy for partner choice is high, partner preferences may be shaped by both social and ecological conditions. In particular, women's access to resources can influence both the type and number of partnerships she engages in. However, most existing data linking resources and partner choice rely on either priming effects or large demographic databases, rather than preferences for specific individuals. Here we leverage a combination of demographic data, food insecurity scores and trait and partner preference ratings to determine whether resource security modulates partner preferences among Himba pastoralists. We find that while food insecurity alone has a weak effect on women's openness to new partners, the interaction of food insecurity and number of dependent children strongly predicts women's openness to potential partners. Further, we show that women who have more dependants have stronger preferences for wealthy and influential men. An alternative hypothesis derived from mating-market dynamics, that female desirability affects female preferences, had no effect. Our data show that women who face greater resource constraints are less discriminating in the number of partners they are open to, and have stronger preferences for resource-related traits. These findings highlight the importance of ecological signals in explaining the plasticity of mate preferences.
The rapidly decreasing costs of generating genetic data sequencing and the ease of new DNA collection technologies have opened up new opportunities for anthropologists to conduct field-based genetic studies. An exciting aspect of this work comes from linking genetic data with the kinds of individual-level traits evolutionary anthropologists often rely on, such as those collected in long-term demographic and ethnographic studies. However, combining these two types of data raises a host of ethical questions related to the collection, analysis and reporting of such data. Here we address this conundrum by examining one particular case, the collection and analysis of paternity data. We are particularly interested in the logistics and ethics involved in genetic paternity testing in the localized settings where anthropologists often work. We discuss the particular issues related to paternity testing in these settings, including consent and disclosure, consideration of local identity and beliefs and developing a process of continued community engagement. We then present a case study of our own research in Namibia, where we developed a multi-tiered strategy for consent and community engagement, built around a double-blind procedure for data collection, analysis and reporting.
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