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Exp Gerontol. 2001 Apr;36(4-6):791-812.

The evolution of senescence in natural populations of guppies (Poecilia reticulata): a comparative approach.

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Department of Biology, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521, USA.


Model organisms like Drosophila melanogaster or Caenorhabditis elegans have revealed genes that influence senescence and the evolvability of senescence. We are interested instead in evaluating why and how senescence evolves in natural populations. To do so, we are taking the ecological geneticist's perspective of comparing natural populations that differ in factors that are predicted to influence the evolution of senescence and are evaluating whether senescence has evolved in the predicted fashion. We are also manipulating the environment to evaluate more directly the evolution of senescence. Guppies (Poecilia reticulata) are found in streams throughout the Northern Range mountains of Trinidad. Natural populations experience large differences in mortality rate as a consequence of the predators with which they co-occur. We have already shown, both with comparative studies and manipulations of the distribution of guppies and their predators, that the early life history evolves very rapidly in response to these differences in mortality. For example, high adult mortality rates select for individuals that develop more rapidly, produce their first litter of young at an earlier age, and devote more of their available resources to reproduction for the remainder of their lives. These changes were predicted by independently derived theory. Aspects of this same theory also predict how the late life history and senescence should evolve. Specifically, theory predicts that the populations that experience low mortality rates should also experience delayed senescence and longer life spans relative to those that experience high mortality rates. We are currently evaluating these predictions with representatives from two high-predation and two low-predation environments. Our presentation will focus on our pilot study, which evaluated life span, lifetime reproduction, and the patterns of aging in our laboratory populations. We will also report on the progress in our ongoing comparative studies of senescence in natural populations.

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