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Ecol Evol. 2015 Nov 17;5(24):5745-57. doi: 10.1002/ece3.1790. eCollection 2015 Dec.

Oxidative stress and life histories: unresolved issues and current needs.

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Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences University of Aberdeen Tillydrone Avenue Aberdeen AB24 2TZ UK; State Key Laboratory of Molecular Developmental Biology Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology Chinese Academy of Sciences Beijing China.
Centre for Ecology and Conservation University of Exeter Penryn Campus Cornwall TR10 9FE UK.
Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology Iowa State University 251 Bessey Hall Ames Iowa 50011.
Physiology, Barshop Institute for Aging and Longevity Research UTHSCSA 15355 Lambda Drive San Antonio Texas 78245.
Department of Biology Lund University Solvegatan 37 Lund 223 62 Sweden.
The Newcastle University Institute for Ageing Institute for Cell & Molecular Biosciences Campus for Ageing and Vitality Newcastle upon Tyne NE4 5PL UK.
Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine University of Glasgow Graham Kerr Building Glasgow G12 8QQ UK.
University of Cambridge Metabolic Research Laboratories and MRC Metabolic Diseases Unit, Level 4 Wellcome Trust-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science Addenbrooke's Hospital Cambridge CB2 0QQ UK.
Zoological Institute and Museum University of Greifswald Johann-Sebastian Bach Str. 11/12 Greifswald 17489 Germany.
Behavioral Biology University of Groningen Nijenborgh 7 Groningen 9747 AG The Netherlands.
Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences University of Aberdeen Tillydrone Avenue Aberdeen AB24 2TZ UK.
MRC Clinical Sciences Centre Imperial College London Hammersmith Hospital Campus Du Cane Road London W12 0NN UK.
Department of Zoology University of Cambridge Cambridge CB2 3EJ UK.
Department of Psychology University of Michigan Ann Arbor Michigan 48109.
Department of Biological Sciences Sam Houston State University 1900 Avenue I LDB 100B Huntsville Texas 77341.
Department of Animal and Plant Sciences University of Sheffield Alfred Denny Building, Western Bank Sheffield S10 2TN UK.
Department Ecology, Physiology et Ethology University of Strasbourg - IPHC (UMR7178) 23, rue Becquerel Strasbourg 67087 France.
Rushmere 13 Upper Crofts Alloway KA7 4QX UK.


Life-history theory concerns the trade-offs that mold the patterns of investment by animals between reproduction, growth, and survival. It is widely recognized that physiology plays a role in the mediation of life-history trade-offs, but the details remain obscure. As life-history theory concerns aspects of investment in the soma that influence survival, understanding the physiological basis of life histories is related, but not identical, to understanding the process of aging. One idea from the field of aging that has gained considerable traction in the area of life histories is that life-history trade-offs may be mediated by free radical production and oxidative stress. We outline here developments in this field and summarize a number of important unresolved issues that may guide future research efforts. The issues are as follows. First, different tissues and macromolecular targets of oxidative stress respond differently during reproduction. The functional significance of these changes, however, remains uncertain. Consequently there is a need for studies that link oxidative stress measurements to functional outcomes, such as survival. Second, measurements of oxidative stress are often highly invasive or terminal. Terminal studies of oxidative stress in wild animals, where detailed life-history information is available, cannot generally be performed without compromising the aims of the studies that generated the life-history data. There is a need therefore for novel non-invasive measurements of multi-tissue oxidative stress. Third, laboratory studies provide unrivaled opportunities for experimental manipulation but may fail to expose the physiology underpinning life-history effects, because of the benign laboratory environment. Fourth, the idea that oxidative stress might underlie life-history trade-offs does not make specific enough predictions that are amenable to testing. Moreover, there is a paucity of good alternative theoretical models on which contrasting predictions might be based. Fifth, there is an enormous diversity of life-history variation to test the idea that oxidative stress may be a key mediator. So far we have only scratched the surface. Broadening the scope may reveal new strategies linked to the processes of oxidative damage and repair. Finally, understanding the trade-offs in life histories and understanding the process of aging are related but not identical questions. Scientists inhabiting these two spheres of activity seldom collide, yet they have much to learn from each other.


Aging; disposable soma theory; free radicals; life‐history theory; oxidative stress

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