Climatic variability and the population dynamics of historical hunter-gatherers: the case of Sami of Northern Finland.

Research paper by Samuli S Helle, Samuli S Helama

Indexed on: 19 Aug '07Published on: 19 Aug '07Published in: American Journal of Human Biology


Our current knowledge on climate-mediated effects on human population dynamics is based on preindustrial agrarian societies where climate-induced crop failures had a major impact on fertility and mortality rates. However, because most of the human evolutionary history has been shaped by hunter-gatherer lifestyle relying on diverse plant and animal food sources, it is also important to understand how climate affected the population dynamics of hunter-gatherers. We thus studied whether climate, measured as a reconstructed annual mean temperature, had concurrent or delayed effects on the key components of population dynamics, annual births and deaths, in three historical (1722-1850) Sami populations of Northern Finland that depended mainly on fishing, hunting, and reindeer herding for their livelihood. We found only weak concurrent effects of mean temperature on annual births and deaths, although in general warm years correlated with increased birth and reduced mortality rates. Likewise, temperature-mediated delayed effects were mainly absent: in one population only, a warm previous year tended to reduce the number of births. By contrast, annual numbers of births and deaths were more closely associated, as indicated by negative correlations between births and deaths up to three previous years. To summarize, in contrast to historical agrarian societies, the population dynamics of historical Sami seemed to be only weakly associated with annual mean temperature, which may indicate that these populations, probably due to their dietary breadth, were rather unaffected by climatic variation.