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Culture, Ecology & Evolution Biocultural Anthropology

Robert J. Quinlan, PhD

Professor of Anthropology

Research & Teaching: Cultural & evolutionary ecology; ethnobiology; medical anthropology; collaborative ethnographic science; cross-cultural comparison; Caribbean; Africa; South America; field & analytical methods.

I’m interested in the nexus of culture and biology in human livelihoods, reproduction, health, development, and cognition. My research examines human life history (influences on timing of major life events) and environmental uncertainty in small-scale production systems in low-income nations. I am also involved in collaborative and interdisciplinary research in medical anthropology and ethnobiology concerning traditional health-related beliefs and practices and their integration with “Western” biomedicine. My collaborative medical ethnobiology research examines antibiotic use in small-scale livestock production among East African agro-pastoralists, which is relevant to selection pressures for antimicrobial resistance and transmission of resistant bacteria.

Environmental Risk & Life History in Small-Scale Societies.  Environmental predictability has important influence on decisions people make about investing their time, attention, energy, wealth, etc.  My evolutionary life history research focuses on effects of environmental shocks and uncertainty in shaping production, reproduction and decision making.

Selected Life History & Risk Related Publications (download pdfs)

Antimicrobial Use in Livestock, & Drug Resistant Bacteria among Agro-Pastoralists. This research is a large interdisciplinary study of the evolution and transmission of antimicrobial resistance among agro-pastoralists (Maasai, Arusha, and Chaga people) in Tanzania, coordinated through the Allen School for Global Health. Chaga farmers tend to employ certified vets for antimicrobial treatment of livestock. Maasai herders tend to medicate livestock themselves with minimal veterinary consultation, although they use vets for livestock vaccination. Arusha agro-pastoralists exhibit veterinary antimicrobial use intermediate between Maasai and Chaga people.  Antibiotics are well integrated into Maasai ethno-veterinary care, though some Maasai would like a more accessible way to estimate livestock weights for calculating dosage. Otherwise, Maasai livestock managers use antibiotics appropriately, similar to veterinarians in developed nations. However, “withdrawal” (avoiding consumption) of meat and milk from livestock under antimicrobial treatment is not economically feasible for most homesteads, which may increase risk of antimicrobial resistance through antibiotic residues in food. Comparing Maasai homesteads to each other, there appears to be no association between use of veterinary antibiotics and antimicrobial resistance.  Maasai fecal samples, however, show a higher prevalence of antibiotic resistant E. coli than do neighboring ethnic groups.  This higher prevalence of resistance may be due to milk-handling practices associated with reliance on subsistence dairying for a large proportion of Maasai nutrition.

 Selected Medical Ethnobiology & Antibiotics Related Publications (download pdfs)