Early-late life trade-offs and the evolution of ageing in the wild

Proc Biol Sci. 2015 May 7;282(1806):20150209. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2015.0209.


Empirical evidence for declines in fitness components (survival and reproductive performance) with age has recently accumulated in wild populations, highlighting that the process of senescence is nearly ubiquitous in the living world. Senescence patterns are highly variable among species and current evolutionary theories of ageing propose that such variation can be accounted for by differences in allocation to growth and reproduction during early life. Here, we compiled 26 studies of free-ranging vertebrate populations that explicitly tested for a trade-off between performance in early and late life. Our review brings overall support for the presence of early-late life trade-offs, suggesting that the limitation of available resources leads individuals to trade somatic maintenance later in life for high allocation to reproduction early in life. We discuss our results in the light of two closely related theories of ageing-the disposable soma and the antagonistic pleiotropy theories-and propose that the principle of energy allocation roots the ageing process in the evolution of life-history strategies. Finally, we outline research topics that should be investigated in future studies, including the importance of natal environmental conditions in the study of trade-offs between early- and late-life performance and the evolution of sex-differences in ageing patterns.

Keywords: antagonistic pleiotropy theory; body growth; disposable soma theory; energy allocation theory; life-history theory; senescence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging*
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mammals / physiology*
  • Reproduction
  • Reptiles / physiology*
  • Sex Characteristics