The evolution of intermittent breeding

Allison K. Shaw, Simon A. Levin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


A central issue in life history theory is how organisms trade off current and future reproduction. A variety of organisms exhibit intermittent breeding, meaning sexually mature adults will skip breeding opportunities between reproduction attempts. It's thought that intermittent breeding occurs when reproduction incurs an extra cost in terms of survival, energy, or recovery time. We have developed a matrix population model for intermittent breeding, and use adaptive dynamics to determine under what conditions individuals should breed at every opportunity, and under what conditions they should skip some breeding opportunities (and if so, how many). We also examine the effect of environmental stochasticity on breeding behavior. We find that the evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS) for breeding behavior depends on an individual's expected growth and mortality, and that the conditions for skipped breeding depend on the type of reproductive cost incurred (survival, energy, recovery time). In constant environments there is always a pure ESS, however environmental stochasticity and deterministic population fluctuations can both select for a mixed ESS. Finally, we compare our model results to patterns of intermittent breeding in species from a range of taxonomic groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)685-703
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of mathematical biology
Issue number4-5
StatePublished - Mar 2013
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Applied Mathematics


  • Evolutionarily stable strategy
  • Intermittent breeding
  • Low frequency reproduction
  • Skipped spawning


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