, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 99-105,
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Age-specificity and the evolution of senescence: a discussion

Abstract

Senescence evolved because selection pressure declines with age. However, to explain senescence it does not suffice to demonstrate that selection pressure declines. It is also necessary to postulate biological mechanisms that lead to a deteriorated state of the organism at high ages, but not before. This has lead to the invocation of ‘age-specific’ genes or processes, a concept which is prone to be interpreted too freely. Events do not happen after a certain amount of time has passed. They need initiation, which means that senescence is required to be a continuous process. As a result, a change at a particular age cannot arise in isolation from changes at other ages, in particular not in isolation from changes at the ages nearby. These mechanistic constraints are not without consequence for the patterns of mortality and fecundity that can evolve. I conclude that from purely logical considerations, senescence is characterized as continuous rather than age-specific deterioration. These considerations guide (theoretical) research in the direction of investigating how continuous somatic change arises, rather than focusing at age-specific events.