Life-history evolution in the anthropocene: Effects of increasing nutrients on traits and trade-offs

Emilie Snell-Rood, Rickey Cothran, Anne Espeset, Punidan Jeyasingh, Sarah Hobbie, Nathan I. Morehouse

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Variation in life-history traits can have major impacts on the ecological and evolutionary responses of populations to environmental change. Life-history variation often results from trade-offs that arise because individuals have a limited pool of resources to allocate among traits. However, human activities are increasing the availability of many once-limited resources, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, with potentially major implications for the expression and evolution of life-history trade-offs. In this review, we synthesize contemporary life history and sexual selection literature with current research on ecosystem nutrient cycling to highlight novel opportunities presented by anthropogenic environmental change for investigating life-history trait development and evolution. Specifically, we review four areas where nutrition plays a pivotal role in life-history evolution and explore possible implications in the face of rapid, human-induced change in nutrient availability. For example, increases in the availability of nutrients may relax historical life-history trade-offs and reduce the honesty of signaling systems. We argue that ecosystems experiencing anthropogenic nutrient inputs present a powerful yet underexplored arena for testing novel and longstanding questions in organismal life-history evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)635-649
Number of pages15
JournalEvolutionary Applications
Issue number7
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 The Authors. Evolutionary Applications published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • Life-history traits
  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorus
  • Signals
  • Trade-offs


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