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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.

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Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK, CB2 3EJ.


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.

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