Positive feedbacks in deep-time transitions of human populations

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2024 Jan;379(1893):20220256. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2022.0256. Epub 2023 Nov 13.


Abrupt and rapid changes in human societies are among the most exciting population phenomena. Human populations tend to show rapid expansions from low to high population density along with increased social complexity in just a few generations. Such demographic transitions appear as a remarkable feature of Homo sapiens population dynamics, most likely fuelled by the ability to accumulate cultural/technological innovations that actively modify their environment. We are especially interested in establishing if the demographic transitions of pre-historic populations show the same dynamic signature of the Industrial Revolution transition (a positive relationship between population growth rates and size). Our results show that population growth patterns across different pre-historic societies were similar to those observed during the Industrial Revolution in developed western societies. These features, which appear to have been operating during most of our recent demographic history from hunter-gatherers to modern industrial societies, imply that the dynamics of cooperation underlay sudden population transitions in human societies. This article is part of the theme issue 'Evolution and sustainability: gathering the strands for an Anthropocene synthesis'.

Keywords: cooperation; human expansions; population; positive feedback.

MeSH terms

  • Feedback
  • Humans
  • Population Density
  • Population Dynamics
  • Population Growth*