What Is a Reproductive Strategy?

Reproductive strategies are behavioral and developmental techniques that organisms employ to maximize their chances of attracting mates to continue their species by passing on their genes, explains Nature Education. Ecologists classify reproductive strategies into the categories of r-selection and K-selection, notes Montana State University.

Organisms living in unstable environments tend primarily to use r-strategies, explains Montana State University. For the r-strategist, the goal is to produce many offspring as rapidly as possible without investing much care into each individual offspring. Since r-strategists live in unstable, often dangerous environments and have short life spans, it is in their reproductive interest to produce large quantities of offspring. This is because it is essentially a given that many of the progeny do not survive to maturation and reproduce themselves. Examples of organisms who reproduce in this manner are bacteria, insects and salmon.

Conversely, organisms that lead more stable lives and have longer life spans are more likely to employ K-strategies, notes Montana State University. These organisms, some of which include elephants and humans, are physically larger and tend to mature at a slower pace. They have only a few offspring per individual organism, allowing them to invest more effort into raising the progeny. Their offspring have a high chance of surviving to reproductive age, so it is more advantageous to invest more resources into just a few of them.

Many organisms do not fit perfectly into the r-strategist or K-strategist categories. Rather, many organisms have reproductive strategies that fall between the two, and some adapt their reproductive strategies to their current living conditions, explains Montana State University.