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A case for environmental statistics of early-life effects

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Daniel Nettle



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2019 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License There is enduring debate over the question of which early-life effects are adaptive and which ones are not. Mathematical modelling shows that early-life effects can be adaptive in environments that have particular statistical properties, such as reliable cues to current conditions and high autocorrelation of environmental states. However, few empirical studies have measured these properties, leading to an impasse. Progress, therefore, depends on research that quantifies cue reliability and autocorrelation of environmental parameters in real environments. These statistics may be different for social and non-social aspects of the environment. In this paper, we summarize evolutionary models of early-life effects. Then, we discuss empirical data on environmental statistics from a range of disciplines. We highlight cases where data on environmental statistics have been used to test competing explanations of early-life effects. We conclude by providing guidelines for new data collection and reflections on future directions. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Developing differences: early-life effects and evolutionary medicine’.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Frankenhuis WE, Nettle D, Dall SRX

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

Year: 2019

Volume: 374

Issue: 1770

Online publication date: 25/02/2019

Acceptance date: 30/12/2018

Date deposited: 23/04/2019

ISSN (print): 0962-8436

ISSN (electronic): 1471-2970

Publisher: Royal Society Publishing


DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2018.0110


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