Allometry and adaptation of body proportions and stature in African pygmies

Brian T. Shea*, Robert C. Bailey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


We have analyzed the growth allometry of external body proportions in Efe pygmies from Zaire and combined these data with values from the literature for comparable dimensions in adult pygmies and nonpygmies. We sequentially tested the hypotheses that adult proportion differences between 1) male vs. female Efe, and 2) pygmies vs. nonpygmies result from ontogenetic scaling, or the differential extension of common patterns of growth allometry. Results indicate an almost complete concordance of allometric trajectories for male and female Efe. These preliminary analyses also strongly suggest that adult nonpygmy Africans generally differ from pygmies in their terminal size and correlated allometric consequences, rather than in more fundamental alterations of underlying patterns of growth. Biacromial diameter emerges as the measurement most likely to depart from this general pattern. These results provide further evidence that shifts in systemic growth hormones yielding differences in terminal overall body size may be accompanied by global and coordinated allometric transformations. Certain proportion differences previously interpreted by some as specific evidence of primitive retention in pygmies in fact reflect simple growth allometric correlates of the derived rapid size decrease in these groups. Selected divergent body proportions characterizing adult pygmies, previously interpreted by some as independent evidence of climatic adaptation, also reflect such allometric correlates of ontogenetic scaling. We critically assess arguments that the small overall body size of pygmies was specifically selected for reasons of thermoregulatory efficiency, and consider an alternative or complementary scenario, based on selection for small size in order to reduce caloric requirements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-340
Number of pages30
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • Anthropometrics
  • Growth physiology
  • Microevolutionary dwarfism
  • Ontogenetic scaling
  • Tropical forest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology


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