Life history theory posits that natural selection leads to the evolution of mechanisms that tend to allocate resources to the competing demands of growth, reproduction, and survival such that fitness is locally maximized. (That is, among alternative allocation patterns exhibited in a population, those having the highest inclusive fitness will become more common over generational time.) Strategic modulation of reproductive effort is potentially adaptive because investment in a new conception may risk one's own survival, future reproductive opportunities, and/or current offspring survival. Several physiological and behavioral mechanisms modulate reproductive effort in human females. This review focuses on the hormonal changes that vary the probability of ovulation, conception, and/or continuing pregnancy and discusses evolutionary models that predict how and why these hormonal changes occur. Anthropological field studies have yielded important insights into the environmental correlates of variation in ovarian steroids, but much remains to be learned about the evolutionary determinants, proximate mechanisms, and demographic significance of variation in women's reproductive functioning.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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