Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

About the PNAS Member Editor
Name Ellison, Peter T.
Location Harvard University
Primary Field Anthropology
Secondary Field Evolutionary Biology
 Election Citation
Ellison founded the field of reproductive ecology: the study of how human reproduction is altered by diet, environment, or social status. He developed methods to measure reproductive hormones in the saliva, which enabled him to investigate -- on five continents -- key processes of human ovarian and testicular function.
 Research Interests
My research focuses on human reproductive ecology, or the interaction of the human reproductive system with ecological, behavioral, and constitutional factors. My group was at the forefront of the development of noninvasive methods for monitoring gonadal steroid profiles in saliva rather than blood or urine, allowing us to follow changes in gonadal function over extended periods of time under natural field conditions. Using these techniques we have demonstrated the responsiveness of female gonadal function to changes in energy intake and expenditure that follow from specific subsistence ecologies in Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America. We have also demonstrated the impact of these changes in gonadal function on female fecundity and birth seasonality. We have studies age-related changes in gonadal function in both men and women in a variety of populations, demonstrating the impact of ecology on this aspect of reproductive aging and its relationship to changes in body composition and other aspects of somatic aging. Recently we have demonstrated linkages between insulin dynamics and ovarian function during the postpartum period in lactating women, proposing a specific mechanism that coordinates the resumption of ovarian cycling with maternal energetic status. In addition to these studies of the relationship of metabolism and reproductive function we have also conducted many studies of human behavioral endocrinology using salivary steroid measurements. Among our contributions in this area has been the demonstration of differences in male testosterone levels associated with differences in marital and parental status. We have also used our techniques and paradigms to contribute to an understanding of the relationship between energetics, and especially exercise, to breast and other steroid-related cancers.

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