Parent age, lifespan and offspring survival: structured variation in life history in a wild population

JM Reid, EM Bignal, S Bignal, DI McCracken, MI Bogdanova, P Monaghan

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62 Citations (Scopus)


1. Understanding the degree to which reproductive success varies with an individual’s age and lifespan, and the degree to which population-level variation mirrors individual-level variation, is central to understanding life-history evolution and the dynamics of age-structured populations. We quantified variation in the survival probability of offspring, one key component of reproductive success and fitness, in relation to parent age and lifespan in a wild population of red-billed choughs (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax). 2. On average across the study population, the first-year survival probability of offspring decreased with increasing parent age and lifespan; offspring of old parents were less likely to survive than offspring of young parents, and offspring of long-lived parents were less likely to survive than offspring of short-lived parents. 3. However, survival did not vary with parent age across offspring produced by groups of parents that ultimately had similar lifespans. 4. Rather, across offspring produced by young parents, offspring survival decreased with increasing parent lifespan; parents that ultimately had long lifespans produced offspring that survived poorly, even when these parents were breeding at young ages. 5. The average decrease in offspring survival with increasing parent age observed across the population therefore reflected the gradual disappearance of short-lived parents that produced offspring that survived well, not age-specific variation in offspring survival within individual parents. 6. The negative correlation between offspring survival and maternal lifespan was strongest when environmental conditions meant that offspring survival was low across the population. 7. These data suggest an environment-dependent trade-off between parent and offspring survival, show consistent individual variation in the resolution of this trade-off that is set early in a parent’s life, and demonstrate that such structured life-history variation can generate spurious evidence of senescence in key fitness components when measured across a population.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)851 - 862
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number4
Publication statusFirst published - 2010

Bibliographical note



  • Ageing
  • Capture–mark–recapture
  • Early life effects
  • Individual quality
  • Longevity
  • Population growth rate
  • State-dependent life history


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