Animal life history is shaped by the pace of life and the distribution of age-specific mortality and reproduction


Animals exhibit an extraordinary diversity of life history strategies. These realized combinations of survival, development and reproduction are predicted to be constrained by physiological limitations and by trade-offs in resource allocation. However, our understanding of these patterns is restricted to a few taxonomic groups. Using demographic data from 121 species, ranging from humans to sponges, we test whether such trade-offs universally shape animal life history strategies. We show that, after accounting for body mass and phylogenetic relatedness, 71% of the variation in animal life history strategies can be explained by life history traits associated with the fast–slow continuum (pace of life) and with a second axis defined by the distribution of age-specific mortality hazards and the spread of reproduction. While we found that life history strategies are associated with metabolic rate and ecological modes of life, surprisingly similar life history strategies can be found across the phylogenetic and physiological diversity of animals.

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Fig. 1: Life history traits used in our analysis to describe the life history strategies of a given animal population.
Fig. 2: Variation in life history traits across 121 species of vertebrate and invertebrate animals.
Fig. 3: Principal component analysis and the influence of mode of life and metabolic rate on the position of populations along the first principal component axis (PC1).
Fig. 4: Posterior distributions, modes and 95% CI for the effect of log10 body mass on the log10 of each of the life history traits, variance at the population and phylogenetic scales and the principal component loadings of phylogeny- and body mass-corrected life history traits.

Data availability

All demography data are available from the COMADRE database ( Additional data are available in Supplementary Data.

Code availability

The code used to generate the analysis can be accessed on Github:


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This publication has emanated from research conducted with the financial support of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI grant no. 15/ERCD/2803 to Y.M.B.), the Natural Environment Research Council (grant no. NE/M018458/1 to R.S.-G.) and the Australian Research Council (grant no. DE140100505 to R.S.-G.). O.R.J. is supported by the Danish Council for Independent Research (grant no. 6108-00467B). We thank the Laboratory of Evolutionary Biodemography at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research for support, development and curation of the COMADRE Animal Matrix Database.

Author information




K.H. designed and conducted the analysis, collated body size, mode of life, metabolic rate and phylogenetic data and wrote the manuscript. T.H.G.E contributed additional human demography data. O.R.J. provided additional code used in the analysis. Y.M.B. and R.S.-G. designed the research. All authors contributed to analysis, design, discussion and interpretation of the results and writing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Kevin Healy.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Figs. 1–3, and Supplementary Tables 1–5

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Data 1

Species from the COMADRE Animal Matrix Database that meet the selection criteria and corresponding data

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Healy, K., Ezard, T.H.G., Jones, O.R. et al. Animal life history is shaped by the pace of life and the distribution of age-specific mortality and reproduction. Nat Ecol Evol 3, 1217–1224 (2019).

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