Complex life cycles, in which discrete life stages of the same organism differ in form or function and often occupy different ecological niches, are common in nature. Because stages share the same genome, selective effects on one stage may have cascading consequences through the entire life cycle. Theoretical and empirical studies have not yet generated clear predictions about how life cycle complexity will influence patterns of adaptation in response to rapidly changing environments or tested theoretical predictions for fitness trade-offs (or lack thereof) across life stages. We discuss complex life cycle evolution and outline three hypotheses - ontogenetic decoupling, antagonistic ontogenetic pleiotropy and synergistic ontogenetic pleiotropy - for how selection may operate on organisms with complex life cycles. We suggest a within-generation experimental design that promises significant insight into composite selection across life cycle stages. As part of this design, we conducted simulations to determine the power needed to detect selection across a life cycle using a population genetic framework. This analysis demonstrated that recently published studies reporting within-generation selection were underpowered to detect small allele frequency changes (approx. 0.1). The power analysis indicates challenging but attainable sampling requirements for many systems, though plants and marine invertebrates with high fecundity are excellent systems for exploring how organisms with complex life cycles may adapt to climate change.