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The functional causes of life history trade-offs have been a topic of interest to evolutionary biologists for over six decades. Our review of life history trade-offs discusses conceptual issues associated with physiological aspects of trade-offs, and it describes recent advances on this topic. We focus on studies of four model systems: wing polymorphic insects, Drosophila, lizards, and birds. The most significant recent advances have been: (a) incorporation of genetics in physiological studies of trade-offs, (b) integration of investigations of nutrient input with nutrient allocation, (c) development of more sophisticated models of resource acquisition and allocation, (d) a shift to more integrated, multidisciplinary studies of intraspecific trade-offs, and (e) the first detailed investigations of the endocrine regulation of life history trade-offs.