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Lifelong heterogeneity in fecundity is insufficient to explain late-life fecundity plateaus in Drosophila melanogaster.

  • Author(s): Rauser, Casandra L;
  • Abdel-Aal, Yasmine;
  • Shieh, Jonathan A;
  • Suen, Christine W;
  • Mueller, Laurence D;
  • Rose, Michael R
  • et al.

Previous studies have demonstrated that fecundity, like mortality, plateaus at late ages in cohorts of Drosophila melanogaster. Although evolutionary theory can explain the decline and plateau in cohort fecundity at late ages, it is conceivable that lifelong heterogeneity in individual female fecundity is producing these plateaus. For example, consistently more fecund females may die at earlier ages, leaving only females that always laid a low number of eggs preponderant at later ages. We simulated fecundity within a cohort, assuming the two phenotypes described above, and tested these predictions by measuring age of death and age-specific fecundity for individual females from three large cohorts. We statistically tested whether there was enough lifelong heterogeneity in fecundity to produce a late-life plateau by testing whether early female fecundity could predict whether that female would live to lay eggs after the onset of the population fecundity plateau. Our results indicate that heterogeneity in fecundity is not lifelong and thus not likely to cause late-life fecundity plateaus. Because lifelong heterogeneity models for fecundity are based on the same underlying assumptions as heterogeneity models for late-life mortality rates, our test of this hypothesis is also an experimental test of lifelong heterogeneity models of late life generally.

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