Evolution of delayed reproduction in uncertain environments: a life-history perspective

Am Nat. 2008 Dec;172(6):797-805. doi: 10.1086/592867.


Environmental uncertainty alone can select for delayed reproduction; however, its relative role in the evolution of delayed reproduction across life histories is not known. Along a life-history spectrum from low-survival/high-fertility species to high-survival/low-fertility species, we show that the latter are more likely to evolve delayed reproduction if fertility varies over time. By contrast, if survival varies over time, low-survival life histories are more likely to evolve delays. If there is variation in both survival and fertility, and if this variation is positively associated, the evolutionarily stable reproductive delay is decreased (relative to independent variation in survival and fertility). Conversely, if variation in survival and fertility is negatively associated, the evolutionarily stable reproductive delay is increased. We further show that environmental uncertainty can drive the evolution of delayed reproduction in an iteroparous organism but only in the special case where juvenile survival is greater than adult survival. For common iteroparous life histories (adult survival > juvenile survival), environmental uncertainty does not select for delayed reproduction. Thus, any benefits that delayed reproduction might have on reproduction or survival could be especially important in explaining the common observation of delayed reproduction in many vertebrates and perennial plants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Demography*
  • Environment*
  • Fertility / physiology*
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Selection, Genetic