• Evolution;
  • individual optimization;
  • individual quality;
  • phenotypic plasticity;
  • Rangifer tarandus ;
  • state dependence


For long-lived organisms, the fitness value of survival is greater than that of current reproduction. Asymmetric fitness rewards suggest that organisms inhabiting unpredictable environments should adopt a risk-sensitive life history, predicting that it is adaptive to allocate resources to increase their own body reserves at the expense of reproduction. We tested this using data from reindeer populations inhabiting contrasting environments and using winter body mass development as a proxy for the combined effect of winter severity and density dependence. Individuals in good and harsh environments responded similarly: Females who lost large amounts of winter body mass gained more body mass the coming summer compared with females losing less mass during winter. Additionally, females experienced a cost of reproduction: On average, barren females gained more body mass than lactating females. Winter body mass development positively affected both the females' reproductive success and offspring body mass. Finally, we discuss the relevance of our findings with respect to scenarios for future climate change.