Parental hormones are associated with crop loss and family sickness following catastrophic flooding in lowland Bolivia

Benjamin C. Trumble, Jonathan Stieglitz, Adrian V. Jaeggi, Bret Beheim, Matthew Schwartz, Edmond Seabright, Daniel Cummings, Hillard Kaplan, Michael Gurven

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The physiology of fatherhood is a growing field of study, and variability in hormonal mediators of reproductive effort (e.g. testosterone, cortisol) can predict variability in paternal investment. Studies often find that lower testosterone levels are associated with increased paternal investment, though most studies are conducted under relatively stable ecological conditions. In this paper, we examine parental physiological correlates of crop loss and family health problems among Tsimane forager-horticulturalists following a catastrophic flood in lowland Bolivia. Immediately after a devastating 2014 flood that impacted >75% of Tsimane communities, we conducted structured interviews examining crop losses and morbidity, and collected saliva specimens from 421 parents (n = 292 households) to analyze cortisol and testosterone. Over 98% of interviewees reported horticultural losses, with the average family losing 88% of their crops, while 80% of families reported flood-induced injuries or illnesses. Controlling for age, body mass index, and time of specimen collection, men's testosterone was negatively associated with both absolute cropland losses (Std. β = −0.16, p = 0.037), and percent of cropland lost (Std. β = −0.16, p = 0.040). Female testosterone was not associated with crop losses. Using the same control variables, both male and female cortisol was negatively associated with a composite measure of child health burden (fathers: Std. β = −0.34, p < 0.001; mothers: Std. β = −0.23, p = 0.037). These results are discussed in the cultural context of a strong sexual division of labor among Tsimane; we highlight the physiological and psychosocial costs of experiencing a natural disaster, especially for paternal caregivers in a nutritionally and pathogenically stressed subsistence population where cultigens provide the majority of calories in the diet.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-107
Number of pages7
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018


  • Cortisol
  • Natural disaster
  • Testosterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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