Reproductive conflict and the evolution of menopause in killer whales
Elsevier (Cell Press)
(C) 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. Open Access, Under a Creative Commons license
Why females of some species cease ovulation prior to the end of their natural lifespan is a longstanding evolutionary puzzle [1-4]. The fitness benefits of post-reproductive helping could in principle select for menopause [1, 2, 5], but the magnitude of these benefits appear insufficient to explain the timing of menopause [6-8]. Recent theory suggests that the cost of inter-generational reproductive conflict between younger and older females of the same social unit is a critical missing term in classical inclusive fitness calculations (the “reproductive conflict hypothesis” [6, 9]). Using a unique long-term dataset on wild resident killer whales, where females can live decades after their final parturition, we provide the first test of this hypothesis in a non-human animal. First, we confirm previous theoretical predictions that local relatedness increases with female age up to the end of reproduction. Second, we construct a new evolutionary model and show that given these kinship dynamics, selection will favour younger females that invest more in competition, and thus have greater reproductive success, than older females (their mothers) when breeding at the same time. Third, we test this prediction using 43 years of individual based demographic data in resident killer whales and show that when mothers and daughters co-breed the mortality hazard of calves from older generation females is 1.7 times that of calves from younger generation females. Intergenerational conflict combined with the known benefits conveyed to kin by post-reproductive females can explain why killer whales have evolved the longest post-reproductive lifespan of all non-human animals.
Support for this research was provided by a grant from NERC (NE/K01286X/1) and data collection was supported in the Southern resident population by funding from Earthwatch Institute and NOAA Fisheries and Fisheries and in the Northern resident population by Fisheries and Oceans Canada Species at Risk Program.
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from Elsevier (Cell Press) via the DOI in this record.
Published: January 12, 2017