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New research finds humans live the same as animals nearby

Fascinating new research published this month has found that humans behave similarly to animals who live nearby.

According to researchers at the University of Bristol, foraging humans (hunter-gatherers who live off the land) reproduce, parent and organise their social groups in similar ways to surrounding mammal and bird species.

The findings show that for almost all behaviours (14 of the 15 investigated) humans were more likely to behave similarly to the majority of other non-human species in the same place, compared to those elsewhere. For example, the reproductive behaviour of humans in areas where they tend to have children later in life were matched by local mammals and birds, who were found to be older when they first reproduced.

A correlation was also found in those having multiple partners, how far they would move to live with new partners, and even how likely couples were to divorce.

Researchers say it is the first time that a wide of range of behaviours have been systematically compared across very different species, with the team looking at 300 locations across the world. The study points to the influence that environmental factors can play on human and non-human behaviour.

Report author Dr Toman Barsbai, from the University of Bristol and the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, said:

Our evidence shows how remarkably pervasive and consistent the effect of the local environment is on behaviour.

The similarities are not only present for behaviours directly relating to the environment, such as finding food, where we might expect a clear correlation, but also for reproductive and social behaviours, which might seem less dependent on the local environment.

The study assessed 339 human hunter-gatherer populations living in diverse environments around the world, including Africa, Asia, Australia, North America, and South America.

Human and animals behaviours analysed include foraging (e.g. reliance on meat diet, reliance on fish diet, extent of food storage etc.), reproduction (e.g. age at first reproduction, extent of polygyny, and divorce), and social behaviour (e.g. extent of paternal care, population density, and the existence of social classes).

The full study was published in the journal Science.

Picture: Brian Wood / Oya Scanning Landscape