On the analysis and interpretation of late-life fecundity inDrosophila melanogaster

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Late-life plateaus have been described in both cohort and individual trajectories of fecundity in Drosophila melanogaster females. Here I examine life history data recently analyzed by Le Bourg and Moreau (2014) and show that non-linearity in the cohort trajectory of fecundity is largely explained by heterogeneity in the duration of reproductive life spans. A model specifying linear post-peak decline of fecundity in individual flies provides a better fit to the data than one that combines linear decline with late-life fecundity plateaus. Using repeated measures analysis of variance, I show that age-dependent trends in individual fecundity are mostly linear, while among the most longevous individuals up to 20% of the variation in trends is non-linear. Plateaus in individual trajectories might be explained by evolutionary processes or by random environmental variation. The dominant role of environmental variation is supported by several observations, including the high variability of late-life fecundity, the occurrence of occasional individual plateaus in inbred lines, and the observation of plateaus in only a fraction of the population. Plateau and non-plateau flies identified by Le Bourg and Moreau (2014) have, on average, the same total fecundity and the same fecundity trajectories. The available evidence suggests that the environmental variance for late-life fecundity is sufficiently large to produce occasional individual trajectories that resemble plateaus but are not heritable.

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