Toggle Main Menu Toggle Search

Open Access padlockePrints

Aging as a consequence of selection to reduce the environmental risk of dying

Lookup NU author(s): Emeritus Professor Thomas Kirkwood


Full text for this publication is not currently held within this repository. Alternative links are provided below where available.


© 2021 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.Each animal in the Darwinian theater is exposed to a number of abiotic and biotic risk factors causing mortality. Several of these risk factors are intimately associated with the act of energy acquisition as such and with the amount of reserve the organism has available from this acquisition for overcoming temporary distress. Because a considerable fraction of an individual's lifetime energy acquisition is spent on somatic maintenance, there is a close link between energy expenditure on somatic maintenance and mortality risk. Here, we show, by simple life-history theory reasoning backed up by empirical cohort survivorship data, how reduction of mortality risk might be achieved by restraining allocation to somatic maintenance, which enhances lifetime fitness but results in aging. Our results predict the ubiquitous presence of senescent individuals in a highly diverse group of natural animal populations, which may display constant, increasing, or decreasing mortality with age. This suggests that allocation to somatic maintenance is primarily tuned to expected life span by stabilizing selection and is not necessarily traded against reproductive effort or other traits. Due to this ubiquitous strategy of modulating the somatic maintenance budget so as to increase fitness under natural conditions, it follows that individuals kept in protected environments with very low environmental mortality risk will have their expected life span primarily defined by somatic damage accumulation mechanisms laid down by natural selection in the wild.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Omholt SW, Kirkwood TBL

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Year: 2021

Volume: 118

Issue: 22

Online publication date: 24/05/2021

Acceptance date: 02/04/2018

ISSN (print): 0027-8424

ISSN (electronic): 1091-6490

Publisher: National Academy of Sciences


DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2102088118

PubMed id: 34031251


Altmetrics provided by Altmetric