The evolution of ageing in cooperative breeders

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Cooperatively breeding animals live longer than their solitary counterparts. This has been suggested for birds, mole rats, and social insects. A common explanation for these long lifespans is that cooperative breeding evolves more readily in long-lived species because lower mortality reduces the rate of territory turnover and thus leads to a limitation of breeding territories. Here, we reverse this argument and show that—rather than being a cause for its evolution—long lifespans are an evolutionary consequence of cooperative breeding. In evolutionary individual-based simulations, we show that natural selection favors a delayed onset of senescence in cooperative breeders, relative to solitary breeders, because cooperative breeders have a delayed age of first reproduction as helpers wait in a reproductive queue to obtain breeder status. Especially long lifespans evolve in cooperative breeders in which queue positions depend on the helpers’ age rank among the helpers within the breeding territory. Furthermore, we show that lower genetic relatedness among group members leads to the evolution of longer lifespans. This is because selection against higher mortality is weaker when mortality reduces competition for breeding between relatives. Our results link the evolutionary theory of ageing with kin selection theory, demonstrating that the evolution of ageing in cooperative breeders is driven by the timing of reproduction and kin structure within breeding territories.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)450-459
Number of pages10
JournalEvolution Letters
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec-2022

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