Inter- and Intrasexual Variation in Aging Patterns across Reproductive Traits in a Wild Red Deer Population

Daniel H. Nussey, Loeske E. B. Kruuk, Alison Morris, Michelle N. Clements, Josephine M. Pemberton, Tim H. Clutton-Brock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

In polygynous species, adult mortality is generally higher in males than in females, and theory predicts that this should result in the evolution of faster rates of senescence in males. Detailed investigations of sex differences in patterns of aging across the many and varied phenotypic characteristics associated with successful reproduction in wild populations of polygynous vertebrates are currently lacking. Here, we use longitudinal data collected from a wild red deer population to compare aging patterns across a range of life-history, behavioral, and morphological traits in both sexes. While males showed more rapid age-related declines in annual breeding success than did females, there was evidence of variation in aging rates among traits within each sex. Traits associated with male breeding performance showed a rapid decline in old age, whereas the morphology and phenology of antlers, a key male secondary sexual characteristic, showed minimal senescence. Female reproductive traits associated with regulation of estrus and gestation showed delayed senescence relative to traits associated with investment in offspring growth during gestation and lactation. Our results suggest that either natural selection or physiological constraint has caused an uncoupling of senescence rates in different physiological systems and, thus, different reproductive traits in this wild vertebrate population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)342-357
Number of pages16
JournalThe American Naturalist
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2009

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • senescence
  • aging
  • ungulate
  • life‐history evolution
  • sexual selection
  • reproduction


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