The life history of whole-organism performance

Q Rev Biol. 2014 Dec;89(4):285-318. doi: 10.1086/678567.


For almost 40 years, studies of whole-organism performance have formed a cornerstone of evolutionary physiology. Although its utility as a heuristic guide is beyond question, and we have learned much about morphological evolution from its application, the ecomorphological paradigm has frequently been applied to performance evolution in ways that range from unsatisfactory to inappropriate. More importantly, the standard ecomorphological paradigm does not account for tradeoffs among performance and other traits, nor between performance traits that are mediated by resource allocation. A revised paradigm that includes such tradeoffs, and the possible ways that performance and fitness-enhancing traits might affect each other, could potentially revivify the study of phenotypic evolution and make important inroads into understanding the relationships between morphology and performance and between performance and Darwinian fitness. We describe such a paradigm, and discuss the various ways that performance and key life-history traits might interact with and affect each other. We emphasize both the proximate mechanisms potentially linking such traits, and the likely ultimate factors driving those linkages, as well as the evolutionary implications for the overall, multivariate phenotype. Finally, we highlight several research directions that will shed light on the evolution and ecology of whole-organism performance and related life-history traits.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Biology*
  • Ecology*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genetic Fitness*