An adaptive theory of increasing mortality with increasing chronological age in populations in the wild

J Theor Biol. 1988 May 21;132(2):145-62. doi: 10.1016/s0022-5193(88)80153-x.


An "increasing mortality with increasing chronological age in populations in the wild" (IMICAW) is a phenomenon shown by many species, and the greater or smaller (or non-existent) IMICAW has an adaptive value, since it reduces the "mean duration of life" (ML). As Leopold (1961) pointed out, a smaller ML brings about a greater spreading velocity, within the species, of any advantageous mutation.However, this is an argument of group selection and is, therefore, inadequate to demonstrate that within a species a C gene causing IMICAW is stable compared with a C' allele not having this effect. The problem may be solved if we consider the inclusive fitness of C with the hypothesis that the dead individuals are replaced by kin individuals. In such a case, even with low values of the coefficient of relationship (Hamilton, 1971) of the substituting individuals, C tends to be stable and favoured by the selective mechanism as compared with C'. When the preferential replacement by kin individuals does not happen and/or when the turnover of generations is swift enough, C is not favoured and hence IMICAW loses its hypothesized adaptive value. In such cases, survival curves must be of type II or III of Pianka's classification (1970). It is discussed if IMICAW might be a consequence of the action of many harmful genes that express themselves tardily in the course of life.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild / physiology*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Longevity
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Mortality*
  • Survival