, Volume 87, Issue 11, pp 476–486 | Cite as

Life history evolution: successes, limitations, and prospects

  • Stephen C. Stearns


 Life history theory tries to explain how evolution designs organisms to achieve reproductive success. The design is a solution to an ecological problem posed by the environment and subject to constraints intrinsic to the organism. Work on life histories has expanded the role of phenotypes in evolutionary theory, extending the range of predictions from genetic patterns to whole-organism traits directly connected to fitness. Among the questions answered are the following: Why are organisms small or large? Why do they mature early or late? Why do they have few or many offspring? Why do they have a short or a long life? Why must they grow old and die? The classical approach to life histories was optimization; it has had some convincing empirical success. Recently non-equilibrium approaches involving frequency-dependence, density-dependence, evolutionary game theory, adaptive dynamics, and explicit population dynamics have supplanted optimization as the preferred approach. They have not yet had as much empirical success, but there are logical reasons to prefer them, and they may soon extend the impact of life history theory into population dynamics and interspecific interactions in coevolving communities.


Life History Population Dynamic Reproductive Success Game Theory Evolutionary Theory 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen C. Stearns
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Basel, Zoology Institute, Rheinsprung 9, 4051 Basel, Switzerland e-mail: Tel.: +1-203-4328452CH

Personalised recommendations