Trans-generational effects on ageing in a wild bird population

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Ageing, long thought to be too infrequent to study effectively in natural populations, has recently been shown to be ubiquitous, even in the wild. A major challenge now is to explain variation in the rates of ageing within populations. Here, using 49 years of data from a population of great tits (Parus major), we show that offspring life-history trajectories vary with maternal age. Offspring hatched from older mothers perform better early in life, but suffer from an earlier onset, and stronger rate, of reproductive senescence later in life. Offspring reproductive lifespan is, however, unaffected by maternal age, and the different life-history trajectories result in a similar fitness payoff, measured as lifetime reproductive success. This study therefore identifies maternal age as a new factor underlying variation in rates of ageing, and, given the delayed trans-generational nature of this effect, poses the question as to proximate mechanisms linking age-effects across generations.

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