Natural Rationality | decision-making in the economy of nature


Life-history evolution under a production constraint

James H. Brown, and Richard M. Sibly
Life-history evolution under a production constraint
PNAS 103: 17595-17599;

The recently formulated metabolic theory of ecology has profound implications for the evolution of life histories. Metabolic rate constrains the scaling of production with body mass, so that larger organisms have lower rates of production on a mass-specific basis than smaller ones. Here, we explore the implications of this constraint for life-history evolution. We show that for a range of very simple life histories, Darwinian fitness is equal to birth rate minus death rate. So, natural selection maximizes birth and production rates and minimizes death rates. This implies that decreased body size will generally be favored because it increases production, so long as mortality is unaffected. Alternatively, increased body size will be favored only if it decreases mortality or enhances reproductive success sufficiently to override the preexisting production constraint. Adaptations that may favor evolution of larger size include niche shifts that decrease mortality by escaping predation or that increase fecundity by exploiting new abundant food sources. These principles can be generalized to better understand the intimate relationship between the genetic currency of evolution and the metabolic currency of ecology.