Who was helping? The scope for female cooperative breeding in early Homo.
Derived aspects of our human life history, such as short interbirth intervals and altricial newborns, have been attributed to male provisioning of nutrient-rich meat within monogamous relationships. However, many primatologists and anthropologists have questioned the relative importance of pair-bonding and biparental care, pointing to evidence that cooperative breeding better characterizes human reproductive and child-care relationships. We present a mathematical model with empirically-informed parameter ranges showing that natural selection favors cooperation among mothers over a wide range of conditions. In contrast, our analysis provides a far more narrow range of support for selection favoring male coalition-based monogamy over more promiscuous independent males, suggesting that provisioning within monogamous relationships may fall short of explaining the evolution of Homo life history. Rather, broader cooperative networks within and between the sexes provide the primary basis for our unique life history.