Placental reproduction is widespread across vertebrate taxa, but little is known about its life-history correlates and putative adaptive value. We studied variation in life-history traits in two populations of the placental poeciliid fish Poeciliopsis prolifica to determine whether differences in post-fertilization maternal provisioning to embryos have a genetic basis and how food availability affects reproduction. Life histories were characterized for wild-caught females and for second-generation lab-born females raised under two levels of food availability. We found that the two populations did not differ significantly in the wild for any life-history traits except for the lipid dry weight in females and in embryos at an advanced stage of development. When environmental effects were experimentally controlled, however, populations exhibited significant differences in several traits, including the degree of maternal provisioning to embryos. Food availability significantly affected female size at first parturition, brood size and offspring dry weight at birth. Altogether, these results demonstrate that population differences in maternal provisioning and other life-history traits have a genetic basis and show a plastic response to food availability. We infer that phenotypic plasticity may mask population differences in the field. In addition, when comparing life-history patterns in these two populations with known patterns in placental and non-placental poeciliids, our results support the hypotheses that placentation is an adaptive reproductive strategy under high-resource conditions but that it may represent a cost under low-food conditions. Finally, our results highlight that age at maturity and reproductive allotment may be key life-history traits accompanying placental evolution. J. Exp. Zool. 307A, 2007. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.