The ideal free distribution, food production, and the colonization of Oceania

Douglas James Kennett, Atholl Anderson, Bruce Winterhalder

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

123 Scopus citations


Islands in Oceania were some of the last habitable land masses on earth to be colonized by humans. Current archaeological evidence suggests that these islands were colonized episodically rather than continuously, and that bursts of migration were followed by longer periods of sedentism and population growth. The decision to colonize isolated, unoccupied islands and archipelagos was complex and dependent on a variety of social, technological and environmental variables. In this chapter we develop an integrative, multivariate approach to island colonization in Oceania based on a model from behavioral ecology known as the Ideal Free Distribution. This ecological model provides a framework that considers the dynamic character of island suitability along with density-dependent and density-independent variables influencing migratory behavior. Unique among existing models, it can account for the episodic nature of certain aspects of the colonization process. Within this context we critically evaluate the role of foraging, lowlevel food production, and ultimately intensive food production, as important contextual variables that influenced decisions to disperse. We argue that intensive food production was one variable that contributed to decreasing suitability of island habitats, stimulating dispersal, and ultimately migrations to more distant islands in Oceania.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationBehavioral Ecology and the Transition to Agriculture
PublisherUniversity of California Press
Number of pages24
ISBN (Print)0520246470, 9780520246478
StatePublished - Jan 2 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Environmental Science


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