Fecundity selection theory: concepts and evidence

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Fitness results from an optimal balance between survival, mating success and fecundity. The interactions between these three components of fitness vary depending on the selective context, from positive covariation between them, to antagonistic pleiotropic relationships when fitness increases in one reduce the fitness of others. Therefore, elucidating the routes through which selection shapes life history and phenotypic adaptations via these fitness components is of primary significance to understanding ecological and evolutionary dynamics. However, while the fitness components mediated by natural (survival) and sexual (mating success) selection have been debated extensively from most possible perspectives, fecundity selection remains considerably less studied. Here, we review the theoretical basis, evidence and implications of fecundity selection as a driver of sex‐specific adaptive evolution. Based on accumulating literature on the life‐history, phenotypic and ecological aspects of fecundity, we (i) suggest a re‐arrangement of the concepts of fecundity, whereby we coin the term ‘transient fecundity’ to refer to brood size per reproductive episode, while ‘annual’ and ‘lifetime fecundity’ should not be used interchangeably with ‘transient fecundity’ as they represent different life‐history parameters; (ii) provide a generalized re‐definition of the concept of fecundity selection as a mechanism that encompasses any traits that influence fecundity in any direction (from high to low) and in either sex; (iii) review the (macro)ecological basis of fecundity selection (e.g. ecological pressures that influence predictable spatial variation in fecundity); (iv) suggest that most ecological theories of fecundity selection should be tested in organisms other than birds; (v) argue that the longstanding fecundity selection hypothesis of female‐biased sexual size dimorphism (SSD) has gained inconsistent support, that strong fecundity selection does not necessarily drive female‐biased SSD, and that this form of SSD can be driven by other selective pressures; and (vi) discuss cases in which fecundity selection operates on males. This conceptual analysis of the theory of fecundity selection promises to help illuminate one of the central components of fitness and its contribution to adaptive evolution.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)341-356
JournalBiological Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jan 2017


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