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Curr Biol. 2011 Sep 27;21(18):R708-17. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.08.025.

Primates and the evolution of long, slow life histories.

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Department of Anthropology, Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University 450 Serra Mall, Building 50, Stanford, CA 94305-2034, USA.


Primates are characterized by relatively late ages at first reproduction, long lives and low fertility. Together, these traits define a life-history of reduced reproductive effort. Understanding the optimal allocation of reproductive effort, and specifically reduced reproductive effort, has been one of the key problems motivating the development of life-history theory. Because of their unusual constellation of life-history traits, primates play an important role in the continued development of life-history theory. In this review, I present the evidence for the reduced reproductive effort life histories of primates and discuss the ways that such life-history tactics are understood in contemporary theory. Such tactics are particularly consistent with the predictions of stochastic demographic models, suggesting a key role for environmental variability in the evolution of primate life histories. The tendency for primates to specialize in high-quality, high-variability food items may make them particularly susceptible to environmental variability and explains their low reproductive-effort tactics. I discuss recent applications of life-history theory to human evolution and emphasize the continuity between models used to explain peculiarities of human reproduction and senescence with the long, slow life histories of primates more generally.

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