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Trends Ecol Evol. 2010 Oct;25(10):562-73. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2010.08.002. Epub 2010 Sep 7.

Individuals and populations: the role of long-term, individual-based studies of animals in ecology and evolutionary biology.

Author information

  • 1Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK, CB2 3EJ. thcb@cam.ac.uk


Many important questions in ecology and evolutionary biology can only be answered with data that extend over several decades and answering a substantial proportion of questions requires records of the life histories of recognisable individuals. We identify six advantages that long-term, individual based studies afford in ecology and evolution: (i) analysis of age structure; (ii) linkage between life history stages; (iii) quantification of social structure; (iv) derivation of lifetime fitness measures; (v) replication of estimates of selection; (vi) linkage between generations, and we review their impact on studies in six key areas of evolution and ecology. Our review emphasises the unusual opportunities and productivity of long-term, individual-based studies and documents the important role that they play in research on ecology and evolutionary biology as well as the difficulties they face.

Copyright © 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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