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David Tracer, Ph.D.

Professor and Chair

Email: David Tracer
Office Location: North Classroom 3018B
Phone: (303) 556-6792
Fax: (303) 556-8501
Office hours: By appointment
Areas of Expertise:
Biological anthropology, maternal and child health, growth and development, decision-making theory


Ph.D., Anthropology, University of Michigan, 1991
M.A., Anthropology, University of Michigan, 1985
B.A., Anthropology, Brandeis University, 1984

I am a biological anthropologist by training and Professor of Anthropology and Health and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Colorado Denver. I also hold an appointment as Professor of Public Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center.

My main area of expertise is human ecology; that is, the reciprocal relationship between organisms, in this case, humans, and their environments understood within an evolutionary framework. For the human organism, the “environment” includes the diverse physical, behavioral, and wider sociocultural milieus within which they are found and to which they must successfully adapt. To date my research has examined aspects of both human biology and behavior within such a framework. In the biological arena, my research has focused on various aspects of maternal and child health including nutrition, growth and development, and determinants of fertility. Within the area of behavioral ecology, I have been interested in testing predictions derived from life history theory and parental investment theory as well as an examination of social norms such as reciprocity, altruism, bargaining, and punishment. All of these areas are represented in my two-decade long and currently still ongoing field-based research project among the Au lowland forager-horticulturalists of Papua New Guinea.

My research among the Au has considered such topics as:
*effects of resource availability on birth interval duration
*cumulative effects of repeated pregnancies and prolonged lactation on women's health
*influences of maternal body composition on the effectiveness of breast-feeding as a natural contraceptive
*the effects of recently introduced socioeconomic development and social stratification on hemoglobin levels, birth weights and growth
*biases in parental investment by age, sex and condition of children and the effects of such biases on child growth and neuromuscular development
*effects of exposure to markets on the outcome of economic experiments used to gauge bargaining behavior, reciprocity and fairness
*effects of punishment on cooperation and fairness
*the propensity of individuals to remediate violations of social norms by punishing transgressors versus compensating victims

2011.  The ‘spiteful’ origins of human cooperation. (with F.W. Marlowe, J.C. Berbesque, C. Barrett, A. Bolyanatz, and M. Gurven). Proceedings of the Royal Society (London B) 278:2159-2164.

2010. "Markets, religion, community size and the evolution of fairness and punishment." (with J. Henrich, R. McElreath, J. Ensminger, A. Barr, C. Barrett, A. Bolyanatz, J.C. Cardenas, M. Gurven, E. Gwako, N. Henrich, C. Lesorogol, F. Marlowe, and J. Ziker). Science 327:1480-1484.

2009. "Breastfeeding structure as a test of parental investment theory in Papua New Guinea." American Journal of Human Biology 21:635-642.

2008. "More ‘altruistic’ punishment in larger societies." (with F.W. Marlowe, J.C. Berbesque, A. Barr, C. Barrett, A. Bolyanatz, J.C. Cardenas, J. Ensminger, M. Gurven, L. Gwako, J. Henrich, N. Henrich, C. Lesorogol, and R. McElreath). Proceedings of the Royal Society (London B) 275:587-590.

2007. "Diagnosis of rickets and reassessment of prevalence among rural children in northern China." (with M.A. Strand, J. Perry, M. Jin, P.R. Fischer, P. Zhang, W. Xi, and S. Li). Pediatrics International 49:202-209.

2006. "Costly punishment across human societies." (with J. Henrich, R. McElreath, J. Ensminger, A. Barr, C. Barrett, A. Bolyanatz, J.C. Cardenas, M. Gurven, L. Gwako, N. Henrich, C. Lesorogol, F. Marlowe, and J. Ziker). Science 312:1767-1770.

2005. "'Economic Man' in cross-cultural perspective: behavioral experiments in 15 small scale societies." (with J. Henrich, R. Boyd, S. Bowles, C. Camerer, E. Fehr, H. Gintis, R. McElreath, M. Alvard, A. Barr, J. Ensminger, N.S. Henrich, K. Hill, F. Gil-White, M. Gurven, F. Marlowe, and J.Q. Patton). Behavioral and Brain Sciences 28:795-855.

2004. "Market integration, reciprocity and fairness in rural Papua New Guinea: results from a two-village ultimatum game study." In J. Henrich, R. Boyd, S. Bowles, C. Camerer, E. Fehr and H. Gintis (eds.) Foundations of Human Sociality: Economic Experiments and Ethnographic Evidence from Fifteen Small-Scale Societies. Oxford University Press. pp. 232-259.

2003. "Selfishness and fairness in economic and evolutionary perspective: An experimental economic study in Papua New Guinea." Current Anthropology 44:432-438.

2002. "Somatic versus reproductive energy allocation in Papua New Guinea: life history theory and public policy." American Journal of Human Biology 14:621-626.

ANTH 1303: Introduction to Biological Anthropology

ANTH 4150/5150: Human Biocultural Adaptability

ANTH 4260/5260: Human Reproductive Ecology

ANTH 6513: Graduate Core: Human Variation

HBSC 7031: Human Ecology for the Health & Behavioral Sciences

PBHL 2000: Introduction to Public Health