The evolution of intergenerational discounting in offspring quality

Adi Livnat, Stephen W. Pacala, Simon A. Levin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Intergenerational effects occur when an individual's actions affect not only its own survivorship and reproduction but also those of its offspring and possibly later descendants. In the presence of intergenerational effects, short-term and long-term measures of success (such as the expected numbers of surviving offspring and of farther descendants, respectively) may be in conflict. When such conflicts occur, life-history theory normally takes long-term measures to predict the outcome of selection. This ignores the fact that, because traits change in time - through mutation, sex, and recombination - long-term relations disintegrate. We study this issue with numerical simulations and analytical models combining intergenerational effects and evolutionary change. In the models, the parental investment per offspring, as well as the total reproductive effort, stand for investments in future generations. The models show that the rate of evolutionary change determines the level of those investments. Higher rates of mutation and of sexual as opposed to parthenogenetic reproduction favor lower parental investment per offspring and lower total reproductive effort. It follows that the level of investment of ancestors in descendants responds to the genetic relatedness between the generations of the lineage, in a manner unaccounted for by preexisting theory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)311-321
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Inclusive fitness
  • Intergenerational effects
  • Maternal effects
  • Mutation-selection balance
  • Offspring quality
  • Parent-offspring conflict

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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