Seasonal modulation of reproductive effort during early pregnancy in humans

Am J Hum Biol. Jul-Aug 2009;21(4):548-58. doi: 10.1002/ajhb.20936.


Life history theory predicts that early pregnancy presents a relatively low cost, uncontested opportunity for a woman to terminate investment in a current reproductive opportunity if a conceptus is of poor quality and/or maternal status or environmental conditions are not propitious for a successful birth. We tested this hypothesis in rural Bolivian women experiencing substantial seasonal variation in workload and food resources. Significant risk factors for early pregnancy loss (EPL) included agropastoralism versus other economic strategies, conception during the most arduous seasons versus other seasons, and increasing maternal age. Anovulation rate (AR) was higher during the most arduous seasons and in older women. Breastfeeding and indicators of social status and living conditions did not significantly influence either risk of EPL or AR. Averaged over the year, anovulation occurred in about 1/4 of the cycles and EPL occurred in about 1/3 of the conceptions. This is the first evidence of seasonality of EPL in a non-industrialized population, and the first to demonstrate a relationship between economic activities and EPL. These findings suggest that both anovulation and EPL are potential mechanisms for modulating reproductive effort; such "failures" may also be nonadaptive consequences of conditions hostile to a successful pregnancy. In either case, variation in EPL risk associated with different subsistence activities can be expected to influence fertility levels and birth seasonality in both contemporary and past human populations. These consequences of variability in the risk of EPL can impact efforts to understand the sources of variation in reproductive success.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Spontaneous / epidemiology*
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Anovulation / epidemiology*
  • Bolivia / epidemiology
  • Breast Feeding / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Rural Population
  • Seasons*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Urban Population