The Evolution of Life Histories

The Evolution of Life Histories

The Evolution of Life Histories

The Evolution of Life Histories


This book offers the first comprehensive summary of life-history evolution, a field that holds a central position in modern ecology and evolutionary biology.


This book introduces the evolution of life histories. It discusses both the macroevolutionary framework and the microevolutionary conditions that determine how life histories evolve.

Consider a zygote that is about to begin its life and imagine that all opportunities are open to it. At what age and size should it start to reproduce? How many times in its life should it attempt reproduction—once, more than once, continuously, seasonally? When it does reproduce, how much energy and time should it allocate to reproduction as opposed to growth and maintenance? Given a certain allocation, how should it divide those resources up among the offspring? Should they be few in number but high in quality and large in size, or should they be small and numerous but less likely to survive? Should it concentrate its reproduction early in life and have a short life as a consequence, or should it make less reproductive effort in any given attempt and live longer? Such questions have become important parts of evolutionary ecology in the last two decades and are often taught in courses on ecology and evolution or, as advanced topics, on their own. This book is for advanced undergraduates, for graduate students, and for anyone else who might be interested. I have assumed that the reader has already encountered calculus, statistics, computer programming, ecology, evolution, and genetics.

This book covers classical life history theory, not its extensions to modular organisms and complex life cycles, and it pays more attention to animals than to plants. While regretting those omissions I do not regret that the book has been kept to a reasonable length.

No book reviewing an area of active research should give the impression that everything has been done. I have tried to discuss the open questions while keeping the treatment straightforward. I have not avoided any topic that is interesting or relevant because it might not be 'suitable' for an introduction. The questions and problems are meant either to develop a skill, to stimulate discussion or an essay, or to lead to original research.

The literature in this area has exploded. I could not read it all. If I missed something important, please call it to my attention.

S.C.S. Basle, June 1990 . . .

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