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Pardue Distinguished Professor

Email: pwleslie(@)

Phone: (919) 962-1564

Fax: (919) 962-1613

Office: 204A Alumni Bldg.

Area of Interest:

Biological Anthropology, Human Ecology, Demography, Population Genetics, Reproduction, East Africa


Ph.D., Penn State, 1977.

Research & Activities:

Research Specializations: My research concerns the relationship among the demographic, socioeconomic, and biological characteristics of human populations, in an ecological context. More specifically, my interests are:

Demography and reproduction: ecological and evolutionary perspectives on reproduction; biosocial determinants of fertility; modeling fertility decisions and reproductive strategies

Population biology/population genetics: interaction among social, demographic, and genetic structures of human populations; modeling complex mating structures

Sub-Saharan African pastoralism: human population ecology; population-environment interactions; demographic causes and consequences of changing livelihoods; cultural and biological responses to environmental fluctuations and uncertainty.

For more than three decades my research has focused on human ecology in the vast rangelands of East Africa.  This included studying the population ecology of Turkana pastoralists in northwest Kenya as part of a larger, long term multidisciplinary study of the ecosystem of that region. The central questions of this project were 1) how do these nomads respond, behaviorally and biologically, to their harsh, fluctuating, unpredictable environment? 2) What effects do the human subsistence strategies have on the local environment? The demographic component of the project took a biocultural approach. That is, it incorporated investigation of demonstrably important biological and environmental influences (e.g., nutrition, disease) on population replacement, but utilizing ethnographic methods to elucidate the values and cultural practices that shape the more proximate determinants of fertility and mortality. Another phase of this work focused on reproductive ecology, with investigations of the relationships between Turkana health, nutrition, and lactation, on the one hand, and reproductive biology and fertility on the other.

More recently, I have pursued another long-term study among Maasai in northern Tanzania, in collaboration with J.T. McCabe (University of Colorado, Boulder). The general goal of the project is to clarify the causes of changing livelihood patterns (especially engagement of these pastoralists with agriculture and labor migration), and the sociocultural, biological, and ecological consequences of these changes. I am particularly interested in the mutual relationship between demography and livelihoods — that is, how household or extended family size and composition influence subsistence strategies, and how changes in subsistence in turn affect fertility, reproductive health, and mobility and migration. In conjunction with additional ecological data (collected in collaboration with other anthropologists and ecologists), this work will contribute to an assessment of systemic connections among human population dynamics and changes in land use, environmental degradation, biodiversity, the viability of community based conservation, and human well-being.

Selected Publications:

McCabe, JT, N Smith, PW Leslie, and A Telligman (2014) Livelihood diversification through migration among a pastoral people: Contrasting case studies of Maasai in northern Tanzania.  Human Organization 73(4):389-400. 

Miller, BW, PW Leslie, and JT McCabe. (2014)  Coping with natural hazards in a conservation context: Resource use decisions of Maasai households during recent and historical droughts.  Human Ecology 42(5):753-768.   

Beall, CM and PW Leslie (2014) Collecting women’s reproductive histories.  American Journal of Human Biology 26(5):577-589.

Leslie, PW and JT McCabe (2013) Response diversity and resilience in social-ecological systems. Current Anthropology 52(4): 114–144.

Baird, TD and PW Leslie (2013)  Conservation as disturbance: Upheaval and livelihood diversification near Tarangire National Park, northern Tanzania. Global Environmental Change 23(5):1131-1141.

McCabe, J.T., P.W. Leslie, and L. DeLuca. (2010) Adopting cultivation to remain pastoralists: The diversification of Maasai livelihoods in northern Tanzania. Human Ecology 38(3):321-334.

Baird, T.D., P.W. Leslie, J.T. McCabe. (2009) The effect of wildlife conservation on local perceptions of risk and behavioral response in northern Tanzania.  Human Ecology 37:463–474.

Leslie, P.W. and M.A. Little (2003) Human biology and ecology: Variation in nature and the nature of variation. American Anthropologist 105(1):28-37.   .

Leslie, P.W. and B.P. Winterhalder (2002) Demographic consequences of unpredictability in fertility outcomes. American Journal of Human Biology 14: 168-183. Special issue on “Evolutionary Approaches to Population”.

Little, M.A. and P.W. Leslie, eds. (1999) Turkana Herders of the Dry Savanna. Ecology and Biobehavioral Response of Nomads to an Uncertain Environment. Oxford University Press.