Generation time, life history and the substitution rate of neutral mutations

Jussi Lehtonen, Robert Lanfear

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
5 Downloads (Pure)


Our understanding of molecular evolution is hampered by a lack of quantitative predictions about how life-history (LH) traits should correlate with substitution rates. Comparative studies have shown that neutral substitution rates vary substantially between species, and evidence shows that much of this diversity is associated with variation in LH traits. However, while these studies often agree, some unexplained and contradictory results have emerged. Explaining these results is difficult without a clear theoretical understanding of the problem. In this study, we derive predictions for the relationships between LH traits and substitution rates in iteroparous species by using demographic theory to relate commonly measured life-history traits to genetic generation time, and by implication to neutral substitution rates. This provides some surprisingly simple explanations for otherwise confusing patterns, such as the association between fecundity and substitution rates. The same framework can be applied to more complex life histories if full life-tables are available.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20140801
Number of pages4
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2014

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2014. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • molecular evolution
  • neutral substitution rate
  • life history
  • generation time
  • fecundity
  • Molecular evolution
  • Neutral substitution rate
  • Life history
  • Generation time
  • Fecundity

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