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Evolution. 2013 Jul;67(7):1964-74. doi: 10.1111/evo.12078. Epub 2013 Mar 21.

The effect of maternal age and reproductive history on offspring survival and lifetime reproduction in preindustrial humans.

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Department of Animal & Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, S10 2TN, UK.


Senescence is one of the least understood aspects of organism life history. In part, this stems from the relatively late advent of complete individual-level datasets and appropriate statistical tools. In addition, selection against senescence should depend on the contribution to population growth arising from physiological investment in offspring at given ages, but offspring are rarely tracked over their entire lives. Here, we use a multigenerational dataset of preindustrial (1732-1860) Finns to describe the association of maternal age at offspring birth with offspring survival and lifetime reproduction. We then conduct longitudinal analyses to understand the drivers of this association. At the population level, offspring lifetime reproductive success (LRS) declined by 22% and individual λ, which falls with delays to reproduction, declined by 45% as maternal age at offspring birth increased from 16 to 50 years. These results were mediated by within-mother declines in offspring survival and lifetime reproduction. We also found evidence for modifying effects of offspring sex and maternal socioeconomic status. We suggest that our results emerge from the interaction of physiological with social drivers of offspring LRS, which further weakens selection on late-age reproduction and potentially molds the rate of senescence in humans.


Aging; birth order; fertility; senescence; sex

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