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Age Specificity and Ecological Theory

Emlen, J. Merritt
Ecology 1970 v.51 no.4 pp. 588-601
altruism, animals, fecundity, natural selection, reproductive success, risk, survival rate
This paper attempts first to deal with the question of aging as a byproduct of natural selection, drawing on the theories of Medawar, Williams and Hamilton, and second, to apply the conclusions to considerations of population and behavioral ecology. It is concluded that: (1) Age—specific mortality should drop to a minimum prior to earliest reproductive age and then rise with age. (2) Age—specific fecundity should rise with age to a peak, which may occur at almost any age depending on the sort of organism considered, and then fall. (3) A sudden increase in mortality at a given age will result in natural selection favoring higher relative mortality at immediately preceding and following ages, and lowered fecundity immediately after that age. (4) A sudden increase in fecundity at a given age will result in natural selection favoring relative higher mortality in early life and immediately after that age, as well as relaxed selection for increased fecundity, especially at middle and late ages. (5) Selection acts to make increasingly steep the survivorship curve of a population declining or fluctuating due to changes in mortality. (6) Selection acts to postpone reproductive effort in populations declining or fluctuating due to changes in fecundity. (7) If mortality is very low, animals, as they age, should ideally take greater risks to secure reproductive success. (8) The nature of altruistic behavior may be age specific, with older individual more characteristically altruistic and younger individuals more characteristically pampered. (9) Intergroup hostilities should be largely directed toward certain age groups.