Ageing--the decline in survival and fecundity with advancing age is caused by damage to macromolecules and tissues. Ageing is not a programmed process, in the sense that no genes are known to have evolved specifically to cause damage and ageing. Mechanisms of ageing might therefore not be expected to be as highly conserved between distantly related organisms as are mechanisms of development and metabolism. However, evidence is mounting that modulators of the rate of ageing are conserved over large evolutionary distances. As we discuss in this review, this conservation might stem from mechanisms that match reproductive rate to nutrient supply.