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The r/K dichotomy can be re-expressed as a continuous spectrum using the economic concept of discounted future returns, with r-selection corresponding to large discount rates and K-selection corresponding to small discount rates.

In reproduction, however, trees typically produce thousands of offspring and disperse them widely, traits characteristic of r-strategists.

Similarly, reptiles such as sea turtles display both r- and K-traits: although sea turtles are large organisms with long lifespans (provided they reach adulthood), they produce large numbers of unnurtured offspring.

In ecology, r/K selection theory relates to the selection of combinations of traits in an organism that trade off between quantity and quality of offspring. The theory was popular in the 1970s and 1980s, when it was used as a heuristic device, but lost importance in the early 1990s, when it was criticized by several empirical studies.

The focus upon either increased quantity of offspring at the expense of individual parental investment of r-strategists, or reduced quantity of offspring with a corresponding increased parental investment of K-strategists, varies widely, seemingly to promote success in particular environments. where N is the population, r is the maximum growth rate, K is the carrying capacity of the local environment, and d N/dt denotes the derivative of N with respect to time t.

However, the Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis posits that intermediate levels of disturbance in a landscape create patches at different levels of succession, promoting coexistence of colonizers and competitors at the regional scale. A 1982 study by Templeton and Johnson, showed that in a population of Drosophila mercatorum under K-selection the population actually produced a higher frequency of traits typically associated with r-selection.