Brian F Codding portrait
  • Associate Professor, Anthropology Department

Research Summary

My work draws on ecological theory to explain variation in present and past human behavior, focusing on the dynamic interactions between individual decisions and local environmental contexts. Examples of recent research are summarized below.


  • PhD., Anthropology, Stanford University
  • M.A., Anthropology, Stanford University
  • B.S., Social Sciences, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

Recent Research

Interests: behavioral ecology, human ecology, human-environment interactions, land use practices, ethnoecology, ethnoarchaeology, anthropogenic disturbance, hunter-gatherers, data analysis, spatial analysis; Australia & North America.


Recent NSF Grants:

CNH-L: Dynamic Impacts of Environmental Change and Biomass Harvesting on Woodland Ecosystems and Traditional Livelihoods

Collaborative Research: Investigating the Linkage Among Environment, Subsistence, and Work Allocation

The Effects of Climate and Population Density on Agricultural Production

Collaborative Research: Improved Taphononomic Correction of Past Population Dynamics


Recent Findings: Select recent research findings are summarized below. A more complete publication list is available here.

Predicting the Distribution of Farmers
Competition to maximize agricultural productivity drove the dispersal patterns of individual Euro-American farmers across Utah in a process that explains the current distribution of populations today.


For more, see Yaworsky, Peter M., and Brian F. Codding (2018) The Ideal Distribution of Farmers: Explaining the Euro-American Settlement of Utah. American Antiquity. DOI 10.1017/aaq.2017.46. Also see the press release and story by Utah Public Radio.


Intermountain Foraging Strategies

The Intermountain West was occupied by speakers of Numic languages who lived small sociopolitical groups called bands. These populations thrived by adopting a unique strategy that included intensive pine nut processing, private property, and the management of resources with fire.

For more, see Magargal et al. (2017) The ecology of population dispersal: Modeling alternative basin-plateau foraging strategies to explain the Numic expansion. American Journal of Human Biology. DOI: 10.1002/ajhb.23000.


Plant Domestication in Eastern North America

The initial domestication of wild plants in Eastern North America was preceded by significant population growth, illustrating that agricultural practices emerge during times of scarcity when human populations outstrip their food supply.





For more, see Elic M. Weitzel and Brian F. Codding (2016) Population growth as a driver of initial domestication in Eastern North America. Royal Society Open Science 3: 160319. DOI: 10.1098/rsos.160319. Also see the press release and story by Utah Public Radio.


Lives and Livelihoods in Aboriginal Australia

Foraging for wild resources is a viable part of hybrid economies in the remote Aboriginal communities of Western Australia, where many individuals increase the amount of time spent foraging in order to provide for dependent offspring.



For more, see Codding, Brian F., Rebecca Bliege Bird, Douglas W. Bird and David W. Zeanah (2016) Alternative Aboriginal Economies: Martu Livelihoods in the 21st Century. In Why Forage? Hunters and Gatherers in the 21st Century, edited by Brian F. Codding and Karen L. Kramer. School for Advanced Research and University of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Also see our short articles in Cultural Anthropology and Arena Magazine.


Origins of Acorn Economies in California

Prehistoric populations on the central California coast increasingly settled in oak woodlands as a result of greater competition in more productive estuarine environments, suggesting that demographic pressure drove the onset of Native California's famous acorn economies.








For more, see the preprint of Codding, Brian F. and Terry L. Jones (2016) External Impacts on Internal Dynamics: Effects of Paleoclimatic and Demographic Variability on Acorn Exploitation along the Central California Coast. In The Archaeology of Human-Environment Interactions, edited by Daniel Contreras, pp. 195-210. Routledge, Oxford. Also see related results.


Ecological Effects of Firestick Farming

Hill kangaroo, an important prey item, are more abundant where Australian Aboriginal populations burn the landscape through a practice known as firestick farming, a strategy that increases vegetation diversity.






For more, see Codding, Brian F., Rebecca Bliege Bird, Peter G. Kauhanen and Douglas W. Bird (2014) Conservation or Co-evolution? Intermediate levels of Aboriginal burning and hunting have positive effects on kangaroo populations in Western Australia. Human Ecology 42:659-669 [link] [pdf]. Also see the press release and a visualization comparing Aboriginal and wildfire regimes.


Colonizing California and Developing Diversity

The first Californians chose to live in highly productive coastal environments, only settling in less productive locations once the best spots were already occupied; subsequent populations displaced some of these early colonists, resulting in the most diverse linguistic patchwork in North America.

For more, see Codding, Brian F. and Terry L. Jones (2013) Environmental productivity predicts migration, demographic and linguistic patterns in prehistoric California. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110:14569-14573 [link] [pdf]. Also see the press release.