Evolutionary demography and quantitative genetics: age-specific survival as a threshold trait

Proc Biol Sci. 2011 Jan 7;278(1702):144-51. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2010.0992. Epub 2010 Jul 21.


Researchers must understand how mutations affect survival at various ages to understand how ageing evolves. Many models linking mutation to age-specific survival have been proposed but there is little evidence to indicate which model is most appropriate. This is a serious problem because the predicted evolutionary endpoints of ageing depend upon the details of the specific model. We apply an explicitly quantitative genetic perspective to the problem. To determine the inheritance of dichotomous traits (such as survival), quantitative genetics has long employed a threshold model. Beginning from first principles, we show how this is the most defensible mutational model for age-specific survival and how this, relative to the standard model, predicts delayed senescence and mortality deceleration at late age. These are commonly observed patterns of ageing that heretofore have required more complicated survival models. We also show how this model can be developed further to unify quantitative genetics and evolutionary demography into a more complete conceptual framework for understanding the evolution of ageing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aging / genetics*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Humans
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Survival Rate