Environmental conditions during early life accelerate the rate of senescence in a short-lived passerine bird

Ecology. 2015 Apr;96(4):948-59. doi: 10.1890/14-1274.1.


Environmental conditions experienced in early life may shape subsequent phenotypic traits including life history. We investigated how predation risk caused by domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus) and local breeding density affected patterns of reproductive and survival senescence in Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) breeding semicolonially in Denmark. We recorded the abundance of cats and the number of breeding pairs at 39 breeding sites during 24 years and related these to age-specific survival rate and reproductive senescence to test predictions of the life history theory of senescence. We found evidence for actuarial senescence for the first time in this species. Survival rate increased until reaching a plateau in midlife and then decreased later. We also found that survival rate was higher for males than females. Local breeding density or predation risk did not affect survival as predicted by theory. Barn Swallows with short lives did not invest more in reproduction in early life, inconsistent with expectations for trade-offs between reproduction and survival as theory suggests. However, we found that the rate of reproductive decline during senescence was steeper for individuals exposed to intense competition, and predation pressure accelerated the rate of reproductive senescence, but only in sites with many breeding pairs. These latter results are in accordance with one of the predictions suggested by the life history theory of aging. These results emphasize the importance of considering intraspecific competition and interspecific interactions such as predation when analyzing reproductive and actuarial senescence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Clutch Size
  • Environment*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Swallows / physiology*