Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Experimentally induced life-history evolution in a natural population


LIFE-HISTORY theory predicts that reduced adult survival will select for earlier maturation and increased reproductive effort; conversely, reduced juvenile survival will select the opposite1#150;5. This is supported by laboratory studies6–10 and comparative data from natural populations11–15. Laboratory studies may support a theory, but cannot assess its importance in natural populations, and comparative studies reveal correlations, not causation16. Long-term perturbation experiments on natural populations resolve both problems. Here we report the findings of a long-term study of guppies (Poecilia reticulata), in which the predictions of life-history theory are supported. Life-history differences among populations of guppies are closely associated with predator species with which guppies live13,17–21. The predators apparently alter age-specific survival because they are size-specific in their choice of prey21–23. Crenicichla alta (a cichlid), the main predator at one class of localities, preys predominantly on large, sexually mature size classes of guppies22–24. Rivulus hartii(a killifish), the main predator at another class of localities, preys predominantly on small, immature size classes. Guppies from localities with Crenicichla mature at an earlier age, have higher reproductive effort, and have more and smaller offspring per brood than those from localities with just Rivulus. These differences are heritable, and correspond with theoretical predictions17–19. To prove that predation caused this pattern, we perturbed a natural population of guppies by changing predation against adults to predation against juveniles. This resulted in significant life-history evolution in the predicted direction after 11 years, or 30–60 generations.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout


  1. Charlesworth, B. Evolution in Age Structured Populations (Cambridge University Press, New York, 1980).

    MATH  Google Scholar 

  2. Gadgil, M. & Bossert P. W. Am. Nat 104, 1–24 (1970).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Kozlowski, J. & Wiegert, R. G. Evol. Ecol. 1, 231–244 (1987).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Law, R. Am. Nat. 114, 399–417 (1979).

    Article  MathSciNet  Google Scholar 

  5. Michod, R. E. Am. Nat. 113, 531–550 (1979).

    Article  MathSciNet  Google Scholar 

  6. Luckinbill, L. S. & Clare, M. J. Heredity 55, 9–18 (1985).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Luckinbill, L. S. & Clare, M. J. Heredity 56, 329–335 (1986).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Mueller, L. D. & Ayala, F. D. Proc. natn. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 78, 1303–1305 (1981).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Rose, M. R. Evolution 38, 1004–1010 (1984).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  10. Rose, M. R. & Charlesworth, B. Genetics 97, 187–196 (1981).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  11. Law, R., Bradshaw, A. D. & Putwain, P. D. Evolution 31, 233–246 (1977).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Leggett, W. C. & Carscadden, J. E. J. Fish. Res. Bd. Can. 35, 1469–1478 (1978).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Reznick, D. N. & Endler, J. E. Evolution 36, 160–177 (1982).

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. Stearns, S. C. Evolution 37, 601–617 (1983).

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. Tinkle, D. W. & Ballinger, R. E. Ecology 53, 570–585 (1972).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Endler, J. E. Natural Selection in the Wild (Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1986).

    Google Scholar 

  17. Reznick, D. N. Evolution 36, 1236–1250 (1982).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Reznick, D. N. Am. Nat. 120, 181–188 (1982).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Reznick, D. N. Ecology 64, 862–873 (1983).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Reznick, D. N. Evolution 43, 1285–1297 (1989).

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. Reznick, D. N. & Bryga, H. Evolution 41, 1370–1385 (1987).

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. Liley, N. R. & Seghers, B. H. in Function and Evolution in Behavior (eds Baerends, G. P., Beer, C. & Manning, A.) 92–118 (Oxford university Press, 1975).

    Google Scholar 

  23. Endler, J. A. Evol. Biol. 11, 319–364 (1978).

    Google Scholar 

  24. Endler, J. A. Evolution 34, 76–91 (1980).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Mertz, D. B. Physiol. Zool. 48, 1–23 (1975).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Williams, G. C. Evolution 11, 398–411 (1957).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Brooks, J. L. & Dodson, S. I. Science 150, 28–35 (1965).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  28. Hughes, R. N. & Seed, R. Mar. Ecol. (Progr. Ser.) 6, 83–89 (1981).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  29. Schneider, D. C. Mar. Ecol. (Progr. Ser.) 5, 223 (1981).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  30. Werner, E. E. & Hall, D. J. Ecology 55, 1042–1058 (1974).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. SAS Institute, Inc. SAS User's Guide: Statistics (SAS Inst. Inc., Cary, North Carolina, 1985).

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Reznick, D., Bryga, H. & Endler, J. Experimentally induced life-history evolution in a natural population. Nature 346, 357–359 (1990).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing