Although fitness depends on both survivorship and fecundity, we tend to assume fecundity relates to fitness more directly than survivorship. In fact, several recent ecological studies suggest fitness depends more heavily on annual survivorship than annual fecundity for most taxa with lifespans longer than one year. These studies review elasticities of transition matrices for a broad range of taxa. Elasticities covary monotonically with selection gradients for demographic rates and are identical to selection gradients for traits rescaled to have mean values of zero and variance of one. For all taxa except semelparous perennial plants, adult survivorship has consistently higher elasticity than other suites of demographic rates. Fecundity only rarely has the highest elasticity. Thus, differences in yearly survival affect fitness disproportionately more than differences in yearly fecundity, even in many exponentially growing populations. This pattern reinforces the importance of interpreting the contribution of vital rates to fitness in the context of life history and population dynamics.
Corresponding Editor: T. Mousseau