• Open Access

Using evolutionary demography to link life history theory, quantitative genetics and population ecology


Correspondence author. E-mail: t.coulson@imperial.ac.uk


1. There is a growing number of empirical reports of environmental change simultaneously influencing population dynamics, life history and quantitative characters. We do not have a well-developed understanding of links between the dynamics of these quantities.

2. Insight into the joint dynamics of populations, quantitative characters and life history can be gained by deriving a model that allows the calculation of fundamental quantities that underpin population ecology, evolutionary biology and life history. The parameterization and analysis of such a model for a specific system can be used to predict how a population will respond to environmental change.

3. Age-stage-structured models can be constructed from character-demography associations that describe age-specific relationships between the character and: (i) survival; (ii) fertility; (iii) ontogenetic development of the character among survivors; and (iv) the distribution of reproductive allocation.

4. These models can be used to calculate a wide range of useful biological quantities including population growth and structure; terms in the Price equation including selection differentials; estimates of biometric heritabilities; and life history descriptors including generation time. We showcase the method through parameterization of a model using data from a well-studied population of Soay sheep Ovis aries.

5. Perturbation analysis is used to investigate how the quantities listed in summary point 4 change as each parameter in each character-demography function is altered.

6. A wide range of joint dynamics of life history, quantitative characters and population growth can be generated in response to changes in different character-demography associations; we argue this explains the diversity of observations on the consequences of environmental change from studies of free-living populations.

7. The approach we describe has the potential to explain within and between species patterns in quantitative characters, life history and population dynamics.