The evolution of prolonged life after reproduction

Trends in Ecology & Evolution
Darren P CroftMichael A Cant

Abstract

Why females of some species cease ovulation before the end of their natural lifespan is a longstanding evolutionary puzzle. For many species in captivity, post-reproductive life is simply an epiphenomenon of lengthened lifespan. Yet in natural populations of humans as well as some cetaceans and insects, reproductive senescence occurs much faster than somatic aging and females exhibit prolonged post-reproductive lifespans (PRLSs). Determining the mechanisms and functions that underpin PRLSs has proved a significant challenge. Here we bring together both classic and modern hypotheses proposed to explain PRLSs and discuss their application to both human and nonhuman animals. By taking an integrative and broad taxonomic approach we highlight the need to consider multiple interacting explanations for the evolution of PRLSs.

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