, Volume 12, Issue 6, pp 739-750

Good genes, old age and life-history trade-offs

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Abstract

The possibility of using old age of a mate as an indicator of genetic quality is currently controversial. Early verbal models as well as a recent simulation study noted that female choice for old mates is beneficial because longevity indicates viability in the current environment. In contrast, a quantitative genetic model of the relationship between age and breeding value of fitness casts strong doubts on the mechanism. The present analysis shows, however, that these doubts are mainly the result of assuming that all variation among individuals arises from differences in allocation between components of fitness. This neglects the possibility of variability in condition as a whole. Instead, when allowing for persistent variability in condition and assuming optimal reaction norms in allocation, it is shown that correlations between survival and genetic quality or fitness can easily be established at all ages. On the other hand, the results also suggest that the validity of verbal arguments is limited, and counterexamples can be generated where low-quality individuals should invest more in survival. Therefore, resolution of the old age indicator problem requires specification of the constraints acting on life-history characteristics.