A case for environmental statistics of early-life effects

Willem E. Frankenhuis*, Daniel Nettle, Sasha R.X. Dall

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)


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’.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20180110
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1770
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2019
Externally publishedYes

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