Research Summary: Beyond R0: Demographic Models for Variability of Lifetime Reproductive Output
The net reproductive rate measures the expected lifetime reproductive output of an individual, and plays an important role in demography, ecology, evolution, and epidemiology. Well-established methods exist to calculate it from age- or stage-classified demographic data. As an expectation, provides no information on variability; empirical measurements of lifetime reproduction universally show high levels of variability, and often positive skewness among individuals. This is often interpreted as evidence of heterogeneity, and thus of an opportunity for natural selection. However, variability provides evidence of heterogeneity only if it exceeds the level of variability to be expected in a cohort of identical individuals all experiencing the same vital rates. Such comparisons require a way to calculate the statistics of lifetime reproduction from demographic data. Here, a new approach is presented, using the theory of Markov chains with rewards, obtaining all the moments of the distribution of lifetime reproduction. The approach applies to age- or stage-classified models, to constant, periodic, or stochastic environments, and to any kind of reproductive schedule. As examples, I analyze data from six empirical studies, of a variety of animal and plant taxa (nematodes, polychaetes, humans, and several species of perennial plants).