Diet mediates the relationship between longevity and reproduction in mammals
The disposable soma hypothesis posits a negative correlation between longevity and reproduction, presumably because these aspects of fitness compete for a limited pool of nutrients. However, diet, which varies widely among animals, could affect the availability of key nutrients required for both reproduction and longevity, especially protein. We used a comparative database of mammal life history data to test the hypothesis that carnivores experience less of a negative relationship between reproduction and longevity than herbivores. Annual reproduction and adult mass were significant predictors of longevity among all mammals; although, the relative importance of reproduction and mass for explaining longevity varied among trophic levels. In herbivores, reproduction was a stronger predictor of longevity than mass. Carnivores showed the opposite pattern with reproduction explaining much less of the variation in longevity. Omnivores showed an intermediate pattern with mass and reproduction explaining similar amounts of variation in longevity. In addition, longevity and reproduction were significantly higher in omnivores than herbivores and carnivores, which were not different from each other. Higher dietary protein at higher trophic levels may allow mammals to avoid potential conflicts between reproduction and longevity. However, there may be potential costs of carnivorous diets that limit the overall performance of carnivores and explain the peak in reproduction and longevity for omnivores.