Why do senescence rates of fitness-related traits often vary dramatically? By considering the full ageing trajectories of multiple traits we can better understand how a species’ life-history shapes the evolution of senescence within a population. Here, we examined age-related changes in sex-specific survival, reproduction, and several components of reproduction using a long-term study of a cooperatively-breeding songbird, the superb fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus). We compared ageing patterns between traits by estimating standardized rates of maturation, the age of onset of senescence, and rates of senescence, while controlling for confounding factors reflecting individual variability in life-history. We found striking differences in ageing and senescence patterns between survival and reproduction, as well as between reproductive traits. In both sexes, survival started to decline from maturity onwards. In contrast, all reproductive traits showed improvements into early
adulthood, and many showed little or no evidence of senescence. In females, despite senescence in clutch size, number of offspring surviving to independence did not decline in late life, possibly due to improvements in maternal care with age. Superb fairy-wrens have exceptionally high levels of extra-group paternity, and male extra-group reproductive success showed much greater changes with age than did within-group reproductive success, suggesting that male reproductive ageing is driven by sexual selection. We discuss how the superb fairy-wrens’ complex life history may contribute to the disparate ageing patterns across different traits.
This dataset has been collected on a wild population of superb fairy-wrens located in and around the Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra, Australia (35°16 S, 149°06 E) that has been intensively monitored since 1988. The study site, approximately 60 ha in area, contains 40-90 territories encompassing between 120-230 year-round resident adults. In this study, we used data from the years 1988-2017.