27 September 2016
What causes interindividual variation in fitness? Evidence of heritability of latent individual fitness traits has resparked a debate about the causes of variation in life histories in populations: neutralism versus empirical adaptationism. This debate about the processes underlying observed variation pits neutral stochastic demographic processes against evolutionarily relevant differences among individual fitness traits. Advancing this debate requires careful consideration of differences among inference approaches used by proponents of each hypothesis. Here we draw parallels between several disciplines focusing on processes generating variation in individuals’ life-course, and we contrast methodologies to disentangle these processes. We draw on other disciplines to clarify terminology, risks of flawed inference, and expand the panel of hypotheses and formalizations of processes generating variation in life histories.