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The Definition and Measurement of Individual Condition in Evolutionary Studies


  • (Invited Review)


Over the past four decades, as the use of the term condition has become more frequent, the meaning of the term has become increasingly vague. This is especially true in evolutionary theory where condition is now equated with reproductive value, genetic quality, or defined as the ‘total pool of resources available for reproduction.’ Condition with the latter meaning is essentially impossible to measure empirically because it is associated with multiple attributes, such as nutritional state, health, experience, foraging success, ability to cope with environmental pressures, and social status, that collectively affect individual fitness. The addition of qualifying terms that often precede condition (e.g., phenotypic, energetic, and nutritional) and the usage of terms that describe an individual's state (e.g., physiological state, energetic state, and nutritional state) add confusion to the issue. It is therefore important to evaluate the meaning of condition, the limits of its usefulness, and how it can be best measured. We suggest using a more narrow definition of condition, amenable to empirical study, would benefit evolutionary and behavioral studies.