Life History Theory


Life history is a general term for the sequence of fitness‐related events and processes occurring during the life of an individual, such as growth, survival and reproduction. Life history theory is a branch of ecology and evolutionary biology that aims to predict and explain the observed patterns in life histories of living organisms.

Keywords: life cycle; reproduction; survival; trade‐offs

Further Reading

Bulmer M (1994) Theoretical Evolutionary Ecology. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer.

Cole LC (1954) The population consequences of life history phenomena. Quarterly Review of Biology 29: 103–137.

Enquist BJ, West GB, Charnov EL and Brown JH (1999) Allometric scaling of production and life‐history variation in vascular plants. Nature 401(6756): 907–911.

Hamilton WD and May RM (1977) Dispersal in stable habitats. Nature 269: 578–581.

Kaplan RH and Cooper WS (1984) The evolution of developmental plasticity in reproductive characteristics – an application of the adaptive coin‐flipping principle. American Naturalist 123(3): 393–410.

Kondrashov AS (1997) Evolutionary genetics of life cycles. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 28: 391–435.

Kondrashov AS and Crow JF (1991) Haploidy or diploidy – which is better. Nature 351(6324): 314–315.

Kozlowski J and Wiegert RG (1987) Optimal age and size at maturity in annuals and perennials with determinate growth. Evolutionary Ecology 1: 231–244.

Lack D (1947) The significance of clutch size. Ibis 89: 302–352.

Mable BK and Otto SP (1998) The evolution of life cycles with haploid and diploid phases. Bioessays 20: 453–462.

Matsuda H and Abrams PA (1999) Why are equally sized gametes so rare? The instability of isogamy and the cost of anisogamy. Evolutionary Ecology Research 1: 769–784.

Maynard Smith J (1978) The Evolution of Sex. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Medawar PB (1952) An Unsolved Problem in Biology. London: H. K. Lewis.

Roff DA (1984) The evolution of life history parameters in teleosts. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Science 39: 1686–1698.

Roff DA (1992) The Evolution of Life Histories. London: Chapman and Hall.

Roff DA (2000) Trade‐offs between growth and reproduction: an analysis of the quantitative genetic evidence. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 13: 434–445.

Rose MR (1991) Evolutionary Biology of Ageing. New York: Oxford University Press.

Smith CC and Fretwell SD (1974) The optimal balance between the size and number of offspring. American Naturalist 108: 499–506.

Stearns SC (1992) The Evolution of Life Histories. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Stearns SC and Koella J (1986) The evolution of phenotypic plasticity in life‐history traits: predictions for norms of reaction for age‐ and size‐at‐maturity. Evolution 40: 65–75.

Truman JW and Riddiford LM (1999) The origins of insect metamorphosis. Nature 401(6752): 447–452.

Williams GC (1957) Pleiotropy, natural selection, and the evolution of senescence. Evolution 11: 398–411.

Contact Editor close
Submit a note to the editor about this article by filling in the form below.

* Required Field

How to Cite close
Yampolsky, Lev Y(Jul 2003) Life History Theory. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0003219]