Faculty Publication: Macroevolution

Andrew Kerkhoff, Associate Provost and Professor of Biology, along with his former student Cecina Babich Morrow ‘18, Data Scientist at Spring Health in NYC, and S. K. Morgan Ernest, Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at the University of Florida, co-authored “Macroevolution of dimensionless life-history metrics in tetrapods” in Volume 288, Issue 1949 (April, 2021) of Proceeding of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences. The work explores a quantitative approach to comparing “life histories” (patterns of survival and reproduction) among mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.

We are super excited about it. It is also a potentially interesting “High Impact Practice” story, in that Cecina was a truly outstanding research student.

Drew kerkhoff
Figure 3. Gaussian hypervolumes for the four classes of tetrapods. Large coloured points represent the centroids of each hypervolume. Small dark points represent trait values for individual species while small light points represent random points. The volume of bird hypervolume is 36.69, mammal is 214.98, reptile is 657.93 and amphibian is 1034.54.


Life-history traits represent organisms’ strategies to navigate the fitness trade-offs between survival and reproduction. Eric Charnov developed three dimensionless metrics to quantify fundamental life-history trade-offs. Lifetime reproductive effort (LRE), relative reproductive lifespan (RRL) and relative offspring size (ROS), together with body mass can be used to classify life-history strategies across the four major classes of tetrapods: amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds. First, we investigate how the metrics have evolved in concert with body mass within tetrapod lineages. In most cases, we find evidence for correlated evolution among body mass and the three dimensionless metrics. Second, we compare life-history strategies across the four classes of tetrapods and find that LRE, RRL and ROS delineate a space in which the major tetrapod classes occupy mostly unique subspaces. These distinct combinations of life-history strategies provide us with a framework to understand the impact of major evolutionary transitions in energetics, physiology and ecology.

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