1. Carry-over effects occur when processes in one season influence the success of an individual in the following season. This phenomenon has the potential to explain a large amount of variation in individual fitness, but so far has only been described in a limited number of species. This is largely due to difficulties associated with tracking individuals between periods of the annual cycle, but also because of a lack of research specifically designed to examine hypotheses related to carry-over effects.
2. We review the known mechanisms that drive carry-over effects, most notably macronutrient supply, and highlight the types of life histories and ecological situations where we would expect them to most often occur. We also identify a number of other potential mechanisms that require investigation, including micronutrients such as antioxidants.
3. We propose a series of experiments designed to estimate the relative contributions of extrinsic and intrinsic quality effects in the pre-breeding season, which in turn will allow an accurate estimation of the magnitude of carry-over effects. To date this has proven immensely difficult, and we hope that the experimental frameworks described here will stimulate new avenues of research vital to advancing our understanding of how carry-over effects can shape animal life histories.
4. We also explore the potential of state-dependent modelling as a tool for investigating carry-over effects, most notably for its ability to calculate optimal rates of acquisition of a multitude of resources over the course of the annual cycle, and also because it allows us to vary the strength of density-dependent relationships which can alter the magnitude of carry-over effects in either a synergistic or agonistic fashion.
5. In conclusion carry-over effects are likely to be far more widespread than currently indicated, and they are likely to be driven by a multitude of factors including both macro- and micronutrients. For this reason they could feasibly be responsible for a large amount of the observed variation in performance among individuals, and consequently warrant a wealth of new research designed specifically to decompose components of variation in fitness attributes related to processes across and within seasons.