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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 1991 Nov 29;334(1270):253-63, discussion 263.

Comparative aspects of diet in Amazonian forest-dwellers.

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  • Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley 94720.


Recent research shows that lowland forests of the Amazon Basin differ in numerous ways including features of climate and soils, faunal composition and forest structure, composition and phenology. Such differences strongly suggest that single-factor models used to explain features of human ecology in Amazonia may be too limited. A comparative study of the dietary ecology of four forest-living indigenous groups in Brazil (Arara, Parakana, Arawete, Mayoruna) revealed a number of differences. Primary crops, as well as animal types most utilized as prey, were found to differ markedly between groups. Although some differences can be accounted for by general environmental factors, no compelling single environmental factor can explain why any one group could not behave dietarily in ways more similar to another. Many of these intergroup dietary differences appear to represent a type of cultural character displacement that aids in distinguishing the members of one group from another. As all human groups, through the medium of culture, are actual or potential occupants of the same dietary niche, each group may distance itself from potential dietary rivals through cultural conventions. This behaviour may be justified, as the lack of overlap between forest-living groups in combination with generally intense intergroup hostility suggests that the biomass and distribution patterns of critical dietary resources in this environment may set limits to viable population size for particular areas.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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