Evolution of Senescence: Late Survival Sacrificed for Reproduction

T. B. L. Kirkwood, M. R. Rose


In so far as it is associated with declining fertility and increasing mortality, senescence is directly detrimental to reproductive success. Natural selection should therefore act in the direction of postponing or eliminating senescence from the life history. The widespread occurrence of senescence is explained by observing that (i) the force of natural selection is generally weaker at late ages than at early ages, and (ii) the acquisition of greater longevity usually involves some cost. Two convergent theories are the `antagonistic pleiotropy' theory, based in population genetics, and the `disposable soma' theory, based in physiological ecology. The antagonistic pleiotropy theory proposes that certain alleles that are favoured because of beneficial early effects also have deleterious later effects. The disposable soma theory suggests that because of the competing demands of reproduction less effort is invested in the maintenance of somatic tissues than is necessary for indefinite survival.

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