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Reproductive senescence in a cooperatively breeding mammal

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date01/2010
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Number of pages8
Original languageEnglish


1. Senescence (or 'ageing') is a widespread and important process in wild animal populations, but variation in ageing patterns within and between species is poorly understood.

2. In cooperatively breeding species, the costs of reproduction are shared between breeders and one or more helpers. The effects of ageing in breeders may therefore be moderated by the presence of helpers, but there have been very few studies of senescence patterns in natural populations of cooperative breeders.

3. Here, we use 13 years of data from a long-term study population of wild meerkats (Suricata suricatta) to investigate age-related changes in several traits known to be key components of reproductive success in females of this species.

4. Four of the six traits studied exhibited significant declines with age, indicating senescence. Litter size, the number of litters produced per year and the number of pups that survived to emergence from the natal burrow per year all increased with female age up to a peak at c. 4 years, and declined steeply thereafter; the mean pup weight at emergence in a given litter declined steadily from age zero.

5. These results provide the first evidence of reproductive senescence in a wild population of a cooperatively breeding vertebrate. Breeding success declined with age despite the sharing of reproductive costs in this species, but further study is needed to investigate whether helping affects other aspects of senescence, including survival.