I have a Hardin cartoon on my office door. It shows a series of animals thinking about the meaning of life. In sequence, we see a lobe-finned fish, a salamander, a lizard, and a monkey, all thinking, “Eat, survive, reproduce; eat, survive, reproduce.” Then comes man: “What’s it all about?” he wonders. Organisms live to reproduce. The ultimate selective pressure on any organism is to survive long enough and well enough to pass genetic material to a next generation that will also be successful in reproducing. In this sense, then, every morphological, physiological, biochemical, or behavioral adaptation contributes to reproductive success, making the field of life cycle evolution a very broad one indeed. Key components include mode of sexuality, age and size at first reproduction (Roff, this volume), number of reproductive episodes in a lifetime, offspring size (Messina and Fox, this volume), fecundity, the extent to which parents protect their offspring and how that protection is achieved, source of nutrition during development, survival to maturity, the consequences of shifts in any of these components, and the underlying mechanisms responsible for such shifts. Many of these issues are dealt with in other chapters. Here I focus exclusively on animals, and on a particularly widespread sort of life cycle that includes at least two ecologically distinct free-living stages. Such “complex life cycles” (Istock 1967) are especially common among amphibians and fishes (Hall and Wake 1999), and within most invertebrate groups, including insects (Gilbert and Frieden 1981), crustaceans, bivalves, gastropods, polychaete worms, echinoderms, bryozoans, and corals and other cnidarians (Thorson 1950). In such life cycles, the juvenile or adult stage is reached by metamorphosing from a preceding, free-living larval stage. In many species, metamorphosis involves a veritable revolution in morphology, ecology, behavior, and physiology, sometimes taking place in as little as a few minutes or a few hours. In addition to the issues already mentioned, key components of such complex life cycles include the timing of metamorphosis (i.e., when it occurs), the size at which larvae metamorphose, and the consequences of metamorphosing at particular times or at particular sizes. The potential advantages of including larval stages in the life history have been much discussed.
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