RESEARCH Energetics, Ecology & Evolution










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CUNY Physical Anthropology





Energy is the fundamental currency of life, needed for growth, reproduction, and repair. Understanding how species use energy is therefore fundamental to understanding their ecological and evolutionary strategies. Our lab investigates energy use in humans and other primates, especially apes, using doubly labeled water, respirometry, and other direct meaures of energy use. The goal is to understand how human and ape metabolic strategies evolved.

Hadza family enjoying lunch

Hunter-Gatherer Energy Expenditure
While hunter-gatherers figure prominently in reconstructions of human evolution, and in modern debates regarding the recent pandemic of obesity, little is kown about the energy expenditures of foraging populations. We're examining daily energy expenditure, foraging costs, and resting metabolic rates among the Hadza of northern Tanzania in order to understand how activity patterns, life history, and provisioning demands are reflected in the daily energy budget of hunter-gatherers. We are also examining the links between physical activity, energy expenditure, nutrition, and health in this population. Intriguingly, daily energy expenditure (the calories burned each day) is no different than that of Westerners - a finding that has important implications for the global obesity pandemic.

Papers & Presentations
2012 Pontzer H., Raichlen D.A., Wood B.M., Racette, S.B., Mabulla, A.Z.P., Marlowe, F.W. Hunter-gatherer energetics and modern human obesity. PLoS ONE 7,e40503.
2011 Pontzer, H., Raichlen, D.A., Wood, B.M., et al. Hadza forager energetics and the evolution of the human metabolic strategy. AJPA. S52. 242
2011 Raichlen D.A., Wood B.M., Pontzer H., et al. Levy walks in hunter-gatherers: when are random walks an optimal search strategy? AJPA. S52, 246-247

Collaborators: David Raichlen, Brian Wood, Frank Marlowe, Audax Mabulla
This multi-year effort is supported by the National Science Foundation

Ape Energetics & Life History
It has long been known that primates in general, and apes in particular, have very slow life histories, with extremely low rates of growth and reproduction. We are currently working to understand how these slow life histories are related to energy use among apes: Are the low rates of growth and reproduction due to decreased energy use, or to differences how energy is spent? And how do human compare? This work is being conducted in collaboration with zoos and sanctuaries, including the Lincoln Park Zoo, Tchimounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center, and Lola Ya Bonobo.

Papers & Presentations
2010 Pontzer, H., Raichlen, D.A., Shumaker, R.W., Ocobock, C., Wich, S.A. Metabolic adaptation for low energy throughput in orangutans. PNAS. 107, 14048-52.
2009 Pontzer, H., Kamilar, J.M. Great ranging associated with greater reproductive investment in mammals. PNAS.106, 192-196.

Collaborators:Steve Ross, Elizabeth Lonsdorf, Kara Schroepfer, Brian Hare, Holly Dunsworth, David Raichlen, Robert Shumaker
This multi-year effort is supported by the Wenner Gren Foundation

Energetics of Locomotion
Animals travel to find food and mates, and thus the energy cost of locomotion figures prominently into foraging ecology and habitat use. Our lab examines how limb anatomy affects the energy cost of walking and running. Results are used to understand how different locomotor strategies, including human bipedalism, evolved. One interesting finding is that limb length is a primary determinant of energy cost for terrestrial animals, from ants to elephants: longer legs mean less energy spent to walk and run.

Papers & Presentations
2011 Pontzer, H., Raichlen, D.A., Sockol, M.D. From treadmill to tropics: calculating ranging cost in chimpanzees.  In: D’Aout, K. & Vereecke, E.E. Studying Primate Locomotion: Linking in situ and ex situ Research. New York, Springer.
2007 Pontzer, H. Limb length and the scaling of locomotor cost in terrestrial animals. J Exp Biol. 210, 1752-1761.

2007 Pontzer, H. Predicting the cost of locomotion in terrestrial animals: a test of the LiMb model in humans and quadrupeds. J Exp Biol. 210, 484 - 494.

Collaborators: David Raichlen
This work has been supported by the National Science Foundation and the Leakey Foundation

Fossil Hominin Energetics
Applying results from the lab to the hominin fossil record allows us to test different hypotheses regarding the evolutionary pressures that shaped the hominin lineage. Part of this work has involved studying the mechanics and cost of chimpanzee locomotion in order to understand the evolution of hominin bipedalism. Our lab is also involved in analyzing the hominin remains at Dmanisi, a 1.8mya site that holds the oldest hominin fossils discovered outside of Africa.

Papers & Presentations
2010 Pontzer, H., Rolian, C., Rightmire, G.P., Jashashvili, T., Ponce de León, M.S., Lordkipanidze, D., Zollikofer, C.P. Locomotor anatomy & biomechanics of the Dmanisi hominins. J Hum Evol. 58, 492-504.
2009 Pontzer, H., Raichlen, D.A., Sockol, M.D. 2009. The metabolic cost of walking in humans, chimpanzees, and early hominins. J Hum Evol. 56, 43-54

2007 Sockol, M.D., Raichlen, D.A., Pontzer, H. 2007. Chimpanzee locomotor energetics and the origin of human bipedalism. PNAS. 30, 12265-12269.
2004 Pontzer, H., Wrangham R.W. Climbing and the daily energy cost of locomotion in wild chimpanzees: Implications for hominoid locomotor evolution. J Hum Evol. 46, 315 – 333.

Collaborators: The Dmanisi Hominin Team, David Raichlen
This work has been supported by the National Science Foundation and the Leakey Foundation