Aging trajectories are trait- and sex-specific in the long-lived Alpine swift
Senescence is defined as the general deterioration of the organism (i.e. physiology, morphology, reproduction), and is associated with increasing mortality and decreasing fertility with age. Although senescence has now been widely reported in wild animals, little is known on whether senescence affects all traits, whether this process is synchronized across traits, and whether males and females are affected in the same way. Using an individual-based monitoring of 20+ years in free-living population of Alpine swifts (Tachymarptis melba), we investigated age-dependent variation between sexes and between six biometric traits, 4 reproductive traits, and 1 measure of parasite burden. We accounted for selective disappearance and terminal effects in our analyses. Our results provide general support for age-dependent variation at adulthood in 8 out of the 11 traits investigated. Most traits showed a variation with 2 thresholds, with first a strong improvement until 4 to 12 years of age (e.g., increased fork length, decreased parasite load, or earlier laying date) followed by a plateau and a decline at older ages. The age of the second threshold showed sex specific asynchrony, with an earlier threshold in males than in females for tail length, parasite burden and laying date, as well as moderate asynchrony across traits. Rates of senescence differed between sexes, with stronger senescence of the tail in females than in males and with evidence of reproductive senescence in females but not in males. We also found evidence of terminal investment in males with respect to brood size at hatching and terminal decline with increased asymmetry of the fork and decreased body mass. We found evidence of selective appearance with males with longer fork and little fork asymmetry starting to reproduce earlier in life, and females that start to reproduce earlier tending to higher reproductive success. Finally, we found selective disappearance of males with longer tails and marginal effect of selective disappearance of females with lower body mass. We discuss how natural or sexual selection may have led to these trait- and sex-specific patterns of aging in this long-lived bird.
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