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Paternal provisioning is ubiquitous in human subsistence societies and unique among apes. How could paternal provisioning have emerged from promiscuous or polygynous mating systems that characterize other apes? An anomalous provisioning male would encounter a social dilemma: Since this investment in prospective offspring can be expropriated by other males, this investment is unlikely to increase the provisioner’s fitness. We present an ecological theory of the evolution of human paternal investment. Ecological change favoring reliance on energetically rich, difficult-to-acquire resources increases payoffs to paternal provisioning due to female–male and/or male–male complementarities. Paternal provisioning becomes a viable reproductive strategy when complementarities are strong, even under high paternity uncertainty. This model illuminates additional paths for understanding the evolution of fatherhood.


This article was originally published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, volume 117, issue 20, in 2020.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.