In recent years, three related methods have been used to model the phenotypic dynamics of traits under the influence of natural selection. The first is based on an approximation to quantitative genetic recursion equations for sexual populations. The second is based on evolution in asexual lineages with mutation-generated variation. The third method finds an evolutionarily stable set of phenotypes for species characterized by a given set of fitness functions, assuming that the mode of reproduction places no constraints on the number of distinct types that can be maintained in the population. The three methods share the property that the rate of change of a trait within a homogeneous population is approximately proportional to the individual fitness gradient. The methods differ in assumptions about the potential magnitude of phenotypic differences in mutant forms, and in their assumptions about the probability that invasion or speciation occurs when a species has a stable, yet invadable phenotype. Determining the range of applicability of the different methods is important for assessing the validity of optimization methods in predicting the evolutionary outcome of ecological interactions. Methods based on quantitative genetic models predict that fitness minimizing traits will often be evolutionarily stable over significant time periods, while other approaches suggest this is likely to be rare. A more detailed study of cases of disruptive selection might reveal whether fitness-minimizing traits occur frequently in natural communities.