Ephemeral work group formation of Jenu Kuruba honey collectors and late 19th Century Colorado silver prospectors

in Behaviour
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Humans frequently form short-lived cooperative groups to accomplish subsistence and economic tasks. We explore the ecological and cultural factors behind ephemeral work-group formation in two disparate cultural contexts: groups foraging for wild honey in present day South India and groups prospecting for silver ore in the Elk Mountain Mining District of Colorado in the late 19th century. Contrary to traditional economic foraging predictions, we find little evidence that per capita yields are the most important factor in determining size and composition of ephemeral work groups. We explore factors in each of these cultures that may be of importance for group formation such as kinship, reputation, and pleasure. Models that only incorporate economic parameters will make poor predictions of how humans interact with their environments.

Ephemeral work group formation of Jenu Kuruba honey collectors and late 19th Century Colorado silver prospectors

in Behaviour



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    Graphical model of group formation depending on group composition. If group members have no control over group membership, then individuals will join the group until the rewards of joining a group are the same as foraging alone (nS: Sibly size). Typically group members do have control over group membership. Point nA is where the cooperative benefits are outweighed by the costs of competition over the resources gained or ‘optimal group size’. If potential joiners are related to group members, group members may allow the relative to join the group past nA and to nB because of inclusive fitness and increased trust. All individuals do not have equal competitive abilities. Those individuals that are particularly competitive will be more productive than other individuals. Groups with highly competitive members will be generally larger than groups without because the group foraging yield can be potentially larger. Also, a group of less competitive individuals may try to pick up a competitive member to increase total group product. Generally, the optimal size for these groups will be larger than groups without competitive members (nC).

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    Box plots representing per capita profits in Rupees by group size for (a) hejjenu honey (A. dorsata, N=19) and (b) thuduvejenu honey (A. cerana, N=33). Groups are larger, on average, for collecting hejjenu, but there is no apparent correlation between group size and foraging success.

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    Box plots representing the length of time a claim was of active legal interest (years) by group size (N=435). There is no apparent change in the median length of interest by group size. Note that few large groups are actually formed, which might indicate that these groups were actively avoided by prospectors.

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