The pace-of-life syndrome revisited: the role of ecological conditions and natural history on the slow-fast continuum

  • Pierre-Olivier MontiglioEmail author
  • Melanie Dammhahn
  • Gabrielle Dubuc Messier
  • Denis Réale
Original Article
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Pace-of-life syndromes: a framework for the adaptive integration of behaviour, physiology and life-history


The pace-of-life syndrome (i.e., POLS) hypothesis posits that behavioral and physiological traits mediate the trade-off between current and future reproduction. This hypothesis predicts that life history, behavioral, and physiological traits will covary under clearly defined conditions. Empirical tests are equivocal and suggest that the conditions necessary for the POLS to emerge are not always met. We nuance and expand the POLS hypothesis to consider alternative relationships among behavior, physiology, and life history. These relationships will vary with the nature of predation risk, the challenges posed by resource acquisition, and the energy management strategies of organisms. We also discuss how the plastic response of behavior, physiology, and life history to changes in ecological conditions and variation in resource acquisition among individuals determine our ability to detect a fast-slow pace of life in the first place or associations among these traits. Future empirical studies will provide most insights on the coevolution among behavior, physiology, and life history by investigating these traits both at the genetic and phenotypic levels in varying types of predation regimes and levels of resource abundance.

Significance statement

We revisit the pace-of-life syndrome hypothesis, suggesting that behaviors involving a risk of death or injury should coevolve with higher metabolic rates, higher fecundity, faster growth, and heightened mortality rates. Empirical support for this hypothesis is mixed. We show how relaxing some of the assumptions underlying the pace-of-life syndrome hypothesis allows us to consider alternative relationships among behavior, physiology, and life history, and why we fail to meet the predictions posed by the pace-of-life syndrome hypothesis in some populations. Our discussion emphasizes the need to re-integrate the role of the species’ natural history, ecological conditions, and phenotypic plasticity in shaping relationships among behavior, physiology, and life history.


Behavior Immunity Life history strategies Metabolism Personality Trait interaction 



The authors thank all the participants of the two workshops Towards a general theory of the pace-of-life syndrome, held in Hannover in 2015 and 2016, for inspiring discussions as well as the Volkswagen Stiftung (Az. 89905) for generously funding these workshops. We thank Jonathan Wright and coauthors for providing us an unpublished manuscript. Members of DR’s laboratory provided constructive comments during the preparation of this manuscript. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for their comments on the initial version of this manuscript.

Funding information

POM was supported by post-doctoral fellowships from the Fonds de Recherche Québec: Nature et Technologies (FRQNT) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). GDM was supported by a FRQNT and a NSERC doctoral fellowship. MD was supported by a DFG research fellowship (DA 1377/2-1) and DFG return fellowship (DA 1377/2-2). This research was supported by an NSERC Discovery grant to DR.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Département des Sciences BiologiquesUniversité du Québec à MontréalMontrealCanada
  2. 2.Department of Biology & Redpath MuseumMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  3. 3.Animal Ecology, Institute for Biochemistry and BiologyUniversity of PotsdamPotsdamGermany
  4. 4.Centre d’Écologie Fonctionnelle et Évolutive (CEFE)Montpellier Cedex 5France

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