fish report header

It takes a village to farm a paddy    

July 7, 2014


Since FISHBIO began working in the Mekong River basin in 2009, we have noticed subtle (and not so subtle) cultural differences between the United States and Southeast Asia. Often times the cultural differences lead to amusing stories, while other times they can create unfortunate misunderstandings. Generally, there is a stereotype that people from western cultures are more independent and analytical thinkers, while Asian cultures tend to be more cooperative and holistic in their thinking. A recent article published in the journal Science has proposed, surprisingly, that which group you fall into may come down to whether your ancestors farmed wheat or rice.


Over the years, several hypotheses have been proposed to explain why some cultures tend to be more individualistic, while others are more interdependent. Under the 'modernization hypothesis,' as a culture becomes increasingly wealthy, the people become more individualistic (Greenfield 2009). From an ecological perspective, the 'pathogen prevalence theory' argues that cultures with a higher historical prevalence of communicable diseases will be more loyal to their group and are less likely to be open to strangers (Fincher et al. 2008). Now, Thomas Talhelm from the University of Virginia, and his colleagues have developed a new theory, which they call the 'rice theory.' They hypothesized that communities historically practicing paddy rice farming, which requires complicated irrigation systems and intensive, coordinated labor, are more likely to develop cooperative relationships and think holistically. In contrast, wheat farming does not require irrigation, and a single family can perform planting and harvesting on its own. Thus, the wheat-growing cultures are more likely to produce individualistic and analytical-thinkers.


To investigate evidence for the 'rice theory' within a single culture, researchers tested 1,162 Han Chinese college students from six sites within China. The team chose to study China because the Chinese have traditionally grown both rice (in Southern China) and wheat (in Northern China). They asked the students to perform three tasks, which provided measures of cultural thought, implicit individualism, and loyalty/nepotism. The results of these tests indicated the most support for the rice theory, as people from rice-farming cultures tended to be holistic-thinkers who act more loyal to their community. For example, in one test participants were given a list of three items (e.g., train, bus, and tracks) and asked to pair two items together. People from rice-growing regions were more likely to make pairs of functional, holistic relationships (e.g., 'trains run on tracks'), while people from wheat-growing regions were more likely to pair abstract categories, showing analytical thinking (e.g., trains and busses are both forms of transportation).


The researchers even tested this theory at a finer geographic scale to try to separate out the effects of climate, dialect, and other correlated differences. Their results show that people from neighboring counties within China that differed in the percent of farmland devoted to rice paddies also showed differences in their cultural thinking - the larger the area of rice paddies, the more likely people thought holistically. The modernization hypothesis did not hold, as wealthier regions actually responded more holistically, and neither did the pathogen theory, as provinces with higher disease rates actually thought less holistically. The researchers plan to test their theory in other rice growing areas such as West Africa and India. In the mean time, this study gives us some food for thought.

Follow Us! Like us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter View our photos on flickr View our videos on YouTube
email list
Recent Blog Posts
Bold, beautiful, and somewhat strange

On this July Fourth, we wanted to share a striking red, white, and blue vista we came across while conducting fish surveys in the High Sierra. The Independence Day color medley is made possible thanks to an eye-catching snow plant (Sarcodes sanguinea), a rather unusual Western wildflower.  


The plant's distinctive appearance and coloration were not lost on 19th century botanist John Torrey, who coined its scientific name from the Greek sarkodes (flesh-like) and the Latin sanguinea (blood-red). This creates the rather gruesome translation of "bloody flesh-like thing."


The snow plant's more pleasant common name comes from the arresting appearance it makes when emerging in the spring, often contrasting with the white snow that can be present as late as June (although definitely not in this drought year). Snow plants bear bright crimson bells, and their otherworldly spears of flowers can reach a foot in height.  


The observant naturalist will notice that the entire plant is also scarlet, even the leaves - there is absolutely nothing green about it, which is an oddity in the natural world. This clue reveals that snow plants lack the pigment chlorophyll, and therefore cannot perform photosynthesis, the transformation of sunlight to energy that is (almost) the very definition of being a plant.


Instead, these bold flowers are "mycotrophic," meaning they derive their energy from fungi beneath the soil. Snow plants steal the mycorrhizae, or symbiotic fungi, that grow in the roots of conifers, making the red shrubs a sort of tree parasite - just another one of their alien-like qualities... Read more > 
IN THE NEWS: Recent stories you might have missed...
Drought continues to cause worries for Valley anglers, hatcheries

Fresno Bee 

Local anglers and hatchery overseers continue to fear that the ongoing drought has the potential to cause catastrophic losses among the area's fish populations. Water levels are falling at lower-lying lakes and rivers amid low runoff from the Sierra and triple-digit summer weather. That means water temperatures can rise into the upper 70s and 80s, as opposed to the more normal mid-60s range... Read more >  

Tribes removing predator fish in Sanpoil River
The Star

A crew of six tribal fisheries staffers are working on the Sanpoil River from mid-May to July to catch as many walleye and smallmouth bass as they can in hoping to improve redband rainbow trout and kokanee runs.The work is part of a "Chief Joseph Kokanee Enhancement Project" that began in the spring of 2011 and is expected to continue through 2017, a press release from the Colville Tribes' Fish and Wildlife Department states. Over the past three years, fisheries staff have been working to reduce the number of walleye and smallmouth bass... Read more >  

Coho salmon identification is critical in California's ocean fisheries  
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife reminds ocean sport anglers to be vigilant about properly identifying their salmon before keeping them. The ocean salmon fishing season in California is well underway and proper identification is critical for the survival of coho (or silver) salmon, a protected species.Chinook (or king) salmon is the primary species targeted in California's ocean waters. The retention of coho salmon, however, is prohibited in all California ocean fisheries in order to protect Central California coast... Read more > 

Japan moves to curb overfishing 
The Wall Street Journal 

Japan has moved to curb overfishing of some species after data showed rapidly falling populations of fish such as tuna and eel. For decades, Tokyo has set catch limits that exceeded levels seen as sustainable. Officials have justified the relatively lax standards as necessary to protect the livelihood of fishing communities. This week, the Fisheries Agency said it would tighten the quotas so they are sustainable. The new quotas apply to seven species: saury, cod, horse mackerel, sardine, mackerel, a kind of squid and snow crab...  Read more > 

New miniature fish discovered


A newly discovered fish species measuring up to 15.4mm long has added to the global diversity of 'miniature' fish. The new species, Priocharax nanus, was discovered in the Rio Negro in Brazil by an international team led by Prof Monica Toledo-Piza and including Museum fish researcher Dr Ralf Britz. The Rio Negro contains an abundance of miniature fish species, defined as those that do not grow beyond 26mm. The water of the Rio Negro looks like dark tea... Read more