The evolutionary ecology of senescence

P. Monaghan, A. Charmantier, D. H. Nussey, R. E. Ricklefs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

1. Research on senescence has largely focused on its underlying causes, and is concentrated on humans and relatively few model organisms in laboratory conditions. To understand the evolutionary ecology of senescence, research on a broader taxonomic range is needed, incorporating field, and, where possible, longitudinal studies.

2. Senescence is generally considered to involve progressive deterioration in performance, and it is important to distinguish this from other age-related phenotypic changes. We outline and discuss the main explanations of why selection has not eliminated senescence, and summarise the principal mechanisms thought to be involved.

3. The main focus of research on senescence is on age-related changes in mortality risk. However, evolutionary biologists focus on fitness, of which survival is only one component. To understand the selective pressures shaping senescence patterns, more attention needs to be devoted to age-related changes in fecundity.

4. Both genetic and environmental factors influence the rate of senescence. However, a much clearer distinction needs to be drawn between life span and senescence rate, and between factors that alter the overall risk of death, and factors that alter the rate of senescence. This is particularly important when considering the potential reversibility and plasticity of senescence, and environmental effects, such as circumstances early in life.

5. There is a need to reconcile the different approaches to studying senescence, and to integrate theories to explain the evolution of senescence with other evolutionary theories such as sexual and kin selection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)371-378
Number of pages8
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008


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