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Aging, fertility, and immortality.


Evolutionary theory suggests that fecundity rates will plateau late in life in the same fashion as mortality rates. We demonstrate that late-life plateaus arise for fecundity in Drosophila melanogaster. The result qualitatively fits the evolutionary theory of late life based on the force of natural selection. But there are a number of alternative interpretations. Fecundity plateaus could be secondary consequences of mortality-rate plateaus. Female fecundity plateaus might arise from diminished male sexual function. Another alternative hypothesis is analogous to male sexual inadequacy: nutritional shortfalls. These may arise later in life because of a decline in female feeding or digestion. If some females have a life-long tendency to lay eggs at a faster rate, but die earlier, then aging for fecundity could arise from the progressive loss of the fast-layers, with the late-life plateau simply the laying patterns of individual females who were slow-layers throughout adult life. If this type of model is generally applicable to late life, then we should find that the females who survive to lay at a slow but steady rate in late life have a similar laying pattern in mid-life.

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