Individual quality has been measured as a variety of different traits and in several different contexts. However, the implications of such measurements in terms of overall fitness are less straightforward than has generally been appreciated. Here we outline some key issues in this regard that have yet to be addressed. Specifically, we consider the importance of both variation in selection on individual and multivariate suites of traits, and of context-specific plasticity in allocation strategies. We argue that an explicit life-history perspective is crucial for understanding variation in quality, as both the strength and direction of selection and an individual's response to it can vary within a breeding season. Hence, ‘quality’ is not a static characteristic that can be measured by taking longitudinal measures of single traits across a population, but rather a dynamic, multivariate suite of traits that is dependent not only on the selective context, but also on the nature and intensity of selection operating at any given time. We highlight these points by considering recent research on selection and plasticity.
- Received July 24, 2010.
- Accepted August 31, 2010.
- This journal is © 2010 The Royal Society