American Society of Naturalists

A membership society whose goal is to advance and to diffuse knowledge of organic evolution and other broad biological principles so as to enhance the conceptual unification of the biological sciences.

“Comparing life histories across taxonomic groups in multiple dimensions: how mammal-like are insects?”

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Adam T. Bakewell, Katie E. Davis, Robert P. Freckleton, Nick J. B. Isaac, and Peter J. Mayhew (Jan 2020)

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Fast-slow continuum is less pronounced in Orthoptera than in birds/mammals, instead trait covariation is reptile-like


Explaining variation in life histories remains a major challenge because they are multi-dimensional and there are many competing explanatory theories and paradigms. An influential concept in life history theory is the ‘fast-slow continuum’, exemplified by mammals. Determining the utility of such concepts across taxonomic groups requires comparison of the groups’ life histories in multidimensional space. Insects display enormous species richness and phenotypic diversity, but testing hypotheses like the ‘fast-slow continuum’ has been inhibited by incomplete trait data. We use phylogenetic imputation to generate complete datasets of seven life history traits in orthopterans (grasshoppers and crickets) and examine the robustness of these imputations for our findings. Three phylogenetic principal components explain 83-96% of variation in these data. We find consistent evidence of an axis mostly following expectations of a ‘fast-slow continuum’, except that ‘slow’ species produce larger, not smaller, clutches of eggs. We show that the principal axes of variation in orthopterans and reptiles are mutually explanatory, as are those of mammals and birds. Essentially, trait covariation in Orthoptera, with ‘slow’ species producing larger clutches, is more reptile-like than mammal-or-bird-like. We conclude that the ‘fast-slow continuum’ is less pronounced in Orthoptera than in birds and mammals, reducing the universal relevance of this pattern, and the theories that predict it.