The evolution of animal reproductive strategies: a theoretical perspective

Main funder

Funder's project number: 312499

Funds granted by main funder (€)

  • 88 837,00

Funding program

Project timetable

Project start date: 01/09/2017

Project end date: 31/12/2019


A major challenge in biology is to explain why animals vary so greatly in their reproductive habits, affecting the physiology, morphology, behaviour, and ecology of species. Evolutionary theory in the form of mathematical and computational models is a powerful tool for providing such explanations. Important aspects of this theory remain yet to be developed, however, which is the general goal of the present project. We will develop models to study three major aspects of animal reproductive habits, concerning (i) the origin of reproductive division of labour, (ii) the consequences of reproductive competition, and (iii) factors influencing reproductive timing. Firstly, reproductive division of labour, as found in eusocial insects, poses a challenge for evolutionary theory because it contradicts the Darwinian principle of individual fitness maximization. Although a large body of literature exists on this topic, few studies have explicitly modelled the transition from a solitary lifestyle to eusociality, including feedbacks between gene frequency-, colony- and population dynamics that are a necessary part of this process. Drawing on recent theoretical advances we aim to fill this gap. Secondly, reproductive competition for mates and fertilisation opportunities (sexual selection) affects species in many ways that are still incompletely understood. In this context, we will study the effect of polyandry (female multiple mating) on the evolution of mate choice, and the relationship between body size and expression of secondary sexual traits. Thirdly, we will study reproductive timing at the individual- and population level. At the individual level, we will study how the optimal scheduling of reproduction during an individual’s lifetime depends on simultaneously occurring life-history trade-offs. At the population level, we will study the conditions for the emergence of synchronised breeding cycles. Throughout this project, our method will be to build models that are complex enough to capture the essence of the problem at hand, while being simple enough to allow deeper insight on its properties. These models will improve our understanding of observed patterns of natural diversity, and stimulate empirical progress by predicting patterns that have yet to be investigated.

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Last updated on 2021-17-03 at 12:09