An empirical test of evolutionary theories for reproductive senescence and reproductive effort in the garter snake Thamnophis elegans

  • Sparkman A
  • Arnold S
  • Bronikowski A
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Evolutionary theory predicts that differential reproductive effort and rate of reproductive senescence will evolve under different rates of external mortality. We examine the evolutionary divergence of age-specific reproduction in two life-history ecotypes of the western terrestrial garter snake, Thamnophis elegans. We test for the signature of reproductive senescence ( decreasing fecundity with age) and increasing reproductive effort with age ( increasing reproductive productivity per gram female) in replicate populations of two life-history ecotypes: snakes that grow fast, mature young and have shorter lifespans, and snakes that grow slow, mature late and have long lives. The difference between life-history ecotypes is due to genetic divergence in growth rate. We find ( i) reproductive success ( live litter mass) increases with age in both ecotypes, but does so more rapidly in the fast-growth ecotype, ( ii) reproductive failure increases with age in both ecotypes, but the proportion of reproductive failure to total reproductive output remains invariant, and ( iii) reproductive effort remains constant in fast-growth individuals with age, but declines in slow-growth individuals. This illustration of increasing fecundity with age, even at the latest ages, deviates from standard expectations for reproductive senescence, as does the lack of increases in reproductive effort. We discuss our findings in light of recent theories regarding the phenomenon of increased reproduction throughout life in organisms with indeterminate growth and its potential to offset theoretical expectations for the ubiquity of senescence.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Garter snake
  • Life history
  • Reproductive effort
  • Senescence

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  • Amanda M. Sparkman

  • Stevan J. Arnold

  • Anne M. Bronikowski

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