The influence of size-dependent life-history traits on the structure and dynamics of populations and communities


Correspondence: E-mail:


Individual organisms often show pronounced changes in body size throughout life with concomitant changes in ecological performance. We synthesize recent insight into the relationship between size dependence in individual life history and population dynamics. Most studies have focused on size-dependent life-history traits and population size-structure in the highest trophic level, which generally leads to population cycles with a period equal to the juvenile delay. These cycles are driven by differences in competitiveness of differently sized individuals. In multi-trophic systems, size dependence in life-history traits at lower trophic levels may have consequences for both the dynamics and structure of communities, as size-selective predation may lead to the occurrence of emergent Allee effects and the stabilization of predator–prey cycles. These consequences are linked to that individual development is density dependent. We conjecture that especially this population feedback on individual development may lead to new theoretical insight compared to theory based on unstructured or age-dependent models. Density-dependent individual development may also cause individuals to realize radically different life histories, dependent on the state and dynamics of the population during their life and may therefore have consequences for individual behaviour or the evolution of life-history traits as well.