2006 Volume 25 Issue 1 Pages 119-131
Throughout the living world trade-offs between reproductive success and longevity have been observed. In general, two extremes of life history patterning are reported, r- and K-selected species. The latter tend toward larger body sizes, few offspring from any one pregnancy, few offspring over the female reproductive span, longer life spans, and greater parental investment (PI: all efforts and expenses associated with the production, gestation, post-natal care, feeding, and protection of young) (e.g., whales, elephants, hominids). r-selected species tend toward smaller body size, multiple births/litters per pregnancy, female production of many gametes and offspring over the life span, and low levels of PI (e.g., most plants, insects, mice). These differences have significant influences on physiological variation among human populations.
Across human samples, reproductive success (RS: the number of offspring successfully birthed and reared to reproductive age) has been reported to vary positively, negatively, and not at all with longevity of women. This complexity may be in part due to the fact that both early-life and late-life fecundity are associated with longevity in women, while total parity seems a poor gauge of female longevity in humankind. Large variations in associations of RS with longevity in women suggest that multiple factors may confound this association. One confounding factor is that among women, RS is largely determined not by fecundity, but by the quality of PI available to offspring. Among modern humans, PI is more complex, longer lasting (both relatively and absolutely), and extensive than for any other mammal. This suggests that modern human life history is a reflection of the co-evolution of longevity and extensive PI as part of our species' biocultural evolution. The need for long-term PI has greatly shaped human physiological variation and patterns of longevity.