Life History Evolution

Studying life histories means paying attention to the great variety of reproductive strategies present in nature. Key life-history traits are the state-specific rates of survival, growth, and fecundity. The importance of growth in life-history evolution comes through the fact that bigger body size is associated with several fitness-related advantages, for example, higher fecundity, reduced predation, and higher success in parental care. At the same time, the models discussed above have shown us that growth requires resources that could have been spent on gonad production and reproduction. How can we then define what kind of life history an individual should follow? In principle, it is extremely simple: the life history that is most effective at spreading the genes for that life history will, with time, become dominant in the population.

If mortality is high there might not be any advantage for an individual to delay maturation - if it does delay it might suffer mortality before having a chance to reproduce. On the other hand, if an individual can increase its survival probability by growing larger and out of the preferred size range of its predators, then intensive growth and delayed maturation might be desirable. To test such hypotheses one often starts with a growth model of a type described above, and then changes individual life-history traits to investigate evolutionarily stable strategies under a given ecological setting.

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