Variation in life history traits of organisms is thought to reflect adaptations to environmental forcing occurring from bottom-up and top-down processes. Such variation occurs not only among, but also within species, indicating demographic plasticity in response to environmental conditions. From a broad literature review, we present evidence for ocean basin- and large marine ecosystem-scale variation in intra-specific life history traits, with similar responses occurring among trophic levels from relatively short-lived secondary producers to very long-lived apex predators. Between North Atlantic and North Pacific Ocean basins, for example, species in the Eastern Pacific exhibited either later maturation, lower fecundity, and/or greater annual survival than conspecifics in the Western Atlantic. Parallel variations in life histories among trophic levels also occur in adjacent seas and between eastern vs. western ocean boundaries. For example, zooplankton and seabird species in cooler Barents Sea waters exhibit lower fecundity or greater annual survival than conspecifics in the Northeast Atlantic. Sea turtles exhibit a larger size and a greater reproductive output in the Western Pacific vs. Eastern Pacific. These examples provide evidence for food-web-wide modifications in life history strategies in response to environmental forcing. We hypothesize that such dichotomies result from frequency and amplitude shifts in resource availability over varying temporal and spatial scales. We review data that supports three primary mechanisms by which environmental forcing affects life history strategies: (1) food-web structure; (2) climate variability affecting the quantity and seasonality of primary productivity; (3) bottom-up vs. top-down forcing. These proposed mechanisms provide a framework for comparisons of ecosystem function among oceanic regions (or regimes) and are essential in modeling ecosystem response to climate change, as well as for creating dynamic ecosystem-based marine conservation strategies.\ud \u
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