Sex differences in life history, behavior, and physiology along a slow-fast continuum: a meta-analysis

Maja Tarka*, Anja Guenther, Petri T. Niemelä, Shinichi Nakagawa, Daniel W.A. Noble

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)


The pace-of-life syndrome (POLS) hypothesis predicts that behavior and physiology covary with life history. Evidence for such covariation is contradictory, possibly because systematic sources of variation (e.g. sex) have been neglected. Sexes often experience different selection pressures leading to sex-specific allocation between reproduction and self-maintenance, facilitating divergence in life-history. Sex-specific differences in means and possibly variances may therefore play a key role in the POLS framework. We investigate whether sexes differ in means and variances along the fast-slow pace-of-life continuum for life history and physiological and behavioral traits. In addition, we test whether social and environmental characteristics such as breeding strategy, mating system, and study environment explain heterogeneity between the sexes. Using meta-analytic methods, we found that populations with a polygynous mating system or for studies conducted on wild populations, males had a faster pace-of-life for developmental life-history traits (e.g., growth rate), behavior, and physiology. In contrast, adult life-history traits (e.g., lifespan) were shifted towards faster pace-of-life in females, deviating from the other trait categories. Phenotypic variances were similar between the sexes across trait categories and were not affected by mating system or study environment. Breeding strategy did not influence sex differences in variances or means. We discuss our results in the light of sex-specific selection that might drive sex-specific differences in pace-of-life and ultimately POLS.

Original languageEnglish
Article number132
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2018
Externally publishedYes


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