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Effects of recruiting age on senescence, lifespan and lifetime reproductive success in a long-lived seabird


Theories of ageing predict that early reproduction should be associated with accelerated reproductive senescence and reduced longevity. Here, the influence of age of first reproduction on reproductive senescence and lifespan, and consequences for lifetime reproductive success (LRS), were examined using longitudinal reproductive records of male and female blue-footed boobies (Sula nebouxii) from two cohorts (1989 and 1991). The two sexes showed different relationships between age of first reproduction and rate of senescent decline: the earlier males recruited, the faster they experienced senescence in brood size and breeding success, whereas in females, recruiting age was unrelated to age-specific patterns of reproductive performance. Effects of recruiting age on lifespan, number of reproductive events and LRS were cohort- and/or sex-specific. Late-recruiting males of the 1989 cohort lived longer but performed as well over the lifetime as early recruits, suggesting the existence of a trade-off between early recruitment and long lifespan. In males of the 1991 cohort and females of both cohorts, recruiting age was apparently unrelated to lifespan, but early recruits reproduced more frequently and fledged more chicks over their lifetime than late recruits. Male boobies may be more likely than females to incur long-term costs of early reproduction, such as early reproductive senescence and diminished lifespan, because they probably invest more heavily than females. In the 1991 cohort, which faced the severe environmental challenge of an El Niño event in the first year of life, life-history trade-offs of males may have been masked by effects of individual quality.

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We thank P. Monaghan and N. Metcalfe for very helpful comments on an earlier manuscript, J. Stamps for references and discussion, and C. Rodríguez, J. L. Osorno and numerous volunteers and students for dedicated work in the field and on the database. Annual fieldwork on Isla Isabel depended on the generous support of many fishermen, the Mexican Secretaría del Medioambiente y Recursos Naturales and the Mexican navy. Finance was provided by the Mexican Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (4722-N9407, C01-47599, D112-903581, PCCNCNA-031528), the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (IN211491), the National Geographic Society (3065-85, 4535-91), and the Conservation and Research Foundation. S.-Y. Kim was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship of the UNAM and by the Spanish Ministerio de Ciencia y Tecnología (CGL2006-10357-C02-01/BOS) and the Xunta de Galicia (Isidro Parga Pondal fellowship). The field procedures we performed did not involve any licensed procedures and complied with the current laws of Mexico.

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Correspondence to Sin-Yeon Kim.

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Communicated by Christopher Johnson.

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Kim, S., Velando, A., Torres, R. et al. Effects of recruiting age on senescence, lifespan and lifetime reproductive success in a long-lived seabird. Oecologia 166, 615–626 (2011).

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  • Cost of reproduction
  • Life-history
  • Southern Oscillation Index (SOI)
  • Sula nebouxii
  • Trade-off