What is a Reproductive Strategy?

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
This lesson defines a reproductive strategy. You'll also learn the various characteristics of two main reproductive strategies and how that impacts the chances offspring will survive.

What Is A Reproductive Strategy?

The term reproductive strategy is loosely used to refer to the way an animal mates and/or raises offspring. It could refer to things like sexual vs. asexual reproduction. It could also refer to one reproductive episode in a lifetime, semelparous reproduction, vs. multiple reproductive episodes over the course of the organism's life, iteroparous reproduction. It could even imply the characteristics of the animal and the environment in which it finds itself in.

Since there are so many ways to think of reproductive strategies, this lesson provides an amalgamation of information with respect to this term.

Two Approaches

To understand reproductive strategies, let's look at an example. Let's say you are a graphics designer, and you've been tasked with creating a logo for a company on one of those crowdsourcing websites. What kind of graphics designer would you be?

A. Shotgun approach. You design as many logos as quickly as possible. None of them may be that high quality but you're hoping one will stick with the client. The upside is you don't spend as much time on design but the downside is you're less likely to win the contest.

B. Careful approach. You design one, maybe two logos, and it takes you a long time. But you know they are higher quality. The upside is a much higher chance of winning the design contest but the downside is, if you don't, you would've wasted a lot more time than in A.

So which graphics designer would you be? Believe it or not, both A and B are a reflection of two general types of reproductive strategies animals use.


Choice A refers to organisms such as bacteria, many insects, and fish like salmon. These are organisms that reproduce very quickly, usually have lots of off-spring all at once, and don't invest much (if any) time in protecting and/or raising their offspring. Think of a fish that goes to a spawning ground, lays its eggs and then swims off to die. This is the 'shotgun' approach to reproduction. Lots of eggs but little care for any of them. Those eggs can be easily destroyed or eaten. If any hatch, those little fish are very vulnerable to predation as well. Thus, few of the offspring have any chance of reaching adulthood ('winning the design contest'). These types of organisms are sometimes called r-strategists. A possible way to remember this is that r-strategists tend to rush to reproduce.


Choice B refers to organisms like humans and elephants. These animals have a different reproductive strategy. They may have offspring multiple times in their life but when they do, the offspring are few in numbers. Think of people, many people have 1-2 children during their lives and only 1 child at a time. Such animals also tend to place greater importance on the care of their progeny. In other words, they invest a lot of energy on protecting and raising a fully functional adult ('winning the design contest'). The upside is a higher chance of passing on ones genes successfully, but the downside is that there are few offspring with which to try and do so. These types of organisms are sometimes called k-strategists. An easy way to remember this is that both goats and humans are k-strategists because they have kids.

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