Unifying life-history analyses for inference of fitness and population growth

Ruth G. Shaw, Charles J. Geyer, Stuart Wagenius, Helen H. Hangelbroek, Julie R. Etterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

149 Scopus citations


The lifetime fitnesses of individuals comprising a population determine its numerical dynamics, and genetic variation in fitness results in evolutionary change. This dual importance of individual fitness is well understood, but empirical fitness records generally violate the assumptions of standard statistical approaches. This problem has undermined comprehensive study of fitness and impeded empirical synthesis of the numerical and genetic dynamics of populations. Recently developed aster models remedy this problem by explicitly modeling the dependence of later-expressed components of fitness (e.g., fecundity) on those expressed earlier (e.g., survival to reproduce). Moreover, aster models employ different sampling distributions for different components of fitness (e.g., binomial for survival over a given interval and Poisson for fecundity). Analysis is done by maximum likelihood, and the resulting distributions for lifetime fitness closely approximate observed data. We illustrate the breadth of aster models' utility with three examples demonstrating estimation of the finite rate of increase, comparison of mean fitness among genotypic groups, and analysis of phenotypic selection. Aster models offer a unified approach to addressing the breadth of questions in evolution and ecology for which life-history data are gathered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E35-E47
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2008


  • Chamaecrista fasciculata
  • Community genetics
  • Demography
  • Echinacea angustifolia
  • Fitness components
  • Uroleucon rudbeckiae

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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