Sociality, age at first reproduction and senescence: comparative analyses of birds

J Evol Biol. 2006 May;19(3):682-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2005.01065.x.


Evolutionary theories of senescence suggest that aging evolves as a consequence of early reproduction imposing later viability costs, or as a consequence of weak selection against mutations that act late in life. In addition, highly social species that live in sites that are protected from extrinsic mortality due to predation should senesce at a slower rate than solitary species. Therefore, species that start reproducing late in life should senesce at a slower rate than species that start reproducing early. In addition, social species should senesce more slowly than solitary species. Here I investigate the rate of senescence using an extensive data set on longevity records under natural field conditions to test predictions about the evolution of senescence among 271 species of birds. Longevity records increased with sampling effort and body mass, but once these confounding variables were controlled statistically, there was a strongly positive relationship between relative longevity and relative adult survival rate. Relative longevity after controlling statistically for sampling effort, body mass and adult survival rate, increased with age at first reproduction, but not with degree of breeding sociality. These findings suggest that the evolution of senescence is related to timing of first reproduction, but that the evolution of breeding sociality has played a negligible role in the evolution of senescence.

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Birds / anatomy & histology*
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Cultural Evolution
  • Female
  • Male
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Social Behavior*