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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Apr 25;103(17):6587-92. Epub 2006 Apr 17.

Quantitative genetics of age at reproduction in wild swans: support for antagonistic pleiotropy models of senescence.

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Edward Grey Institute, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS, United Kingdom.


Why do individuals stop reproducing after a certain age, and how is this age determined? The antagonistic pleiotropy theory for the evolution of senescence predicts that increased early-life performance should be accompanied by earlier (or faster) senescence. Hence, an individual that has started to breed early should also lose its reproductive capacities early. We investigate here the relationship between age at first reproduction (AFR) and age at last reproduction (ALR) in a free-ranging mute swan (Cygnus olor) population monitored for 36 years. Using multivariate analyses on the longitudinal data, we show that both traits are strongly selected in opposite directions. Analysis of the phenotypic covariance between these characters shows that individuals vary in their inherent quality, such that some individuals have earlier AFR and later ALR than expected. Quantitative genetic pedigree analyses show that both traits possess additive genetic variance but also that AFR and ALR are positively genetically correlated. Hence, although both traits display heritable variation and are under opposing directional selection, their evolution is constrained by a strong evolutionary tradeoff. These results are consistent with the theory that increased early-life performance comes with faster senescence because of genetic tradeoffs.

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