Beginners in life history theory or evolutionary ecology seemingly face a variety of almost unrelated approaches. Yet the biomathematical literature of the last 10-20 years reflects the implicit acceptance of a common evolutionary framework, the core idea being that there exists a unique general fitness measure that concisely summarizes the overall time course of potential invasions by initially rare mutant phenotypes. Using such an invasion criterion to characterize fitness implicitly presupposes a scenario in which, during periods o f clear evolutionary change, the rate of evolution is set primarily by the random occurrence (and initial establishment) of favourable mutations. Evolutionarily stable life history strategies (ESSs) may then be regarded as traps for the evolutionary random walk. Copyright © 1992. Published by Elsevier Ltd.