The predation cost of being a male: implications for sex-specific rates of ageing

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Evolutionary theory predicts that the rate of extrinsic (i.e. age- and condition-independent) mortality should affect important life history traits such as the rate of ageing and maximum lifespan. Sex-specific differences in mortality rates due to predation may therefore result in the evolution of important differences in life history traits between males and females. However, quantifying the role of predators as a factor of extrinsic mortality is notoriously difficult in natural populations. We took advantage of the unusual prey caching behaviour of the barn owl Tyto alba and the tawny owl Strix aluco to estimate the sex ratio of their five most common preys. For all prey species, there was a significant bias in the sex ratio of remains found in nests of both these owls. A survey of literature revealed that sex-biased predation is a common phenomenon. These results demonstrate that predation, a chief source of extrinsic mortality, was strongly sex-biased. This may select for alternate life history strategies between males and females, and account for a male life span being frequently lower than female lifespan in many animal species.

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