• Alternative developmental pathways;
  • cline;
  • model;
  • mortality risk;
  • polyphenism;
  • voltinism

Many organisms express discrete alternative phenotypes (polyphenisms) in relation to predictable environmental variation. However, the evolution of alternative life-history phenotypes remains poorly understood. Here, we analyze the evolution of alternative life histories in seasonal environments by using temperate insects as a model system. Temperate insects express alternative developmental pathways of diapause and direct development, the induction of a certain pathway affecting fitness through its life-history correlates. We develop a methodologically novel and holistic simulation model and optimize development time, growth rate, body size, reproductive effort, and adult life span simultaneously in both developmental pathways. The model predicts that direct development should be associated with shorter development time (duration of growth) and adult life span, higher growth rate and reproductive effort, smaller body size as well as lower fecundity compared to the diapause pathway, because the two generations divide the available time unequally. These predictions are consistent with many empirical data. Our analysis shows that seasonality alone can explain the evolution of alternative life histories.