Female Reproductive Aging in Seven Primate Species: Patterns and Consequences


Age-related changes in fertility have increasingly been documented in wild animal populations: In many species the youngest and oldest reproducers are disadvantaged relative to prime adults. How do these effects evolve, and what explains their diversity across species? Tackling this question requires detailed data on patterns of age-related reproductive performance in multiple animal species. Here, we compare patterns and consequences of age-related changes in female reproductive performance in seven primate populations that have been subjects of long-term continuous study for 29 to 57 y. We document evidence of age effects on fertility and on offspring performance in most, but not all, of these primate species. Specifically, females of six species showed longer interbirth intervals in the oldest age classes, youngest age classes, or both, and the oldest females also showed relatively fewer completed interbirth intervals. In addition, five species showed markedly lower survival among offspring born to the oldest mothers, and two species showed reduced survival for offspring born to both the youngest and the oldest mothers. In contrast, we found mixed evidence that maternal age affects the age at which daughters first reproduce: Only in muriquis and to some extent in chimpanzees, the only two species with female-biased dispersal, did relatively young mothers produce daughters that tended to have earlier first reproduction. Our findings demonstrate shared patterns as well as contrasts in age-related changes in female fertility across species of nonhuman primates and highlight species-specific behavior and life-history patterns as possible explanations for species-level differences.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences