Phylogenetic prediction of the maximum per capita rate of population growth

William F. Fagan, Yanthe E. Pearson, Elise A. Larsen, Heather J. Lynch, Jessica B. Turner, Hilary Staver, Andrew E. Noble, Sharon Bewick, Emma E. Goldberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The maximum per capita rate of population growth, r, is a central measure of population biology. However, researchers can only directly calculate r when adequate time series, life tables and similar datasets are available. We instead view r as an evolvable, synthetic life-history trait and use comparative phylogenetic approaches to predict r for poorly known species. Combining molecular phylogenies, life-history trait data and stochastic macroevolutionary models, we predicted r for mammals of the Caniformia and Cervidae. Cross-validation analyses demonstrated that, even with sparse life-history data, comparative methods estimated r well and outperformed models based on body mass. Values of r predicted via comparative methods were in strong rank agreement with observed values and reduced mean prediction errors by approximately 68 per cent compared with two null models. We demonstrate the utility of our method by estimating r for 102 extant species in these mammal groups with unknown life-history traits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20130523
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1763
StatePublished - Jul 22 2013


  • Caniformia
  • Intrinsic rate of natural increase
  • Macroevolutionary model
  • Mammal life history
  • Population doubling time
  • Species conservation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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