Post-Fertile Lifespan in Female Primates and Cetaceans

  • Mary S. M. Pavelka
  • Lauren J. N. Brent
  • D. P. Croft
  • Linda M. Fedigan
Part of the Developments in Primatology: Progress and Prospects book series (DIPR)


Popular and scientific interest in menopause in humans has led to an increased interest in the extent of post-fertile life in other animals, particularly in long-lived social species such as other primates and cetaceans. Information on maximum lifespan achieved and age at last birth are available from long-term observations of known individuals from 11 primate species in the wild. Comparable information from wild cetaceans are more difficult to obtain; however there are relevant fisheries data, as well as a small number of long-term individual-based studies. Using post-reproductive representation (PrR) as a population measure of post-fertile lifespan that allows comparisons across populations and species, this review confirms that among primates, only humans have a maximum lifespan significantly longer than 50 years, and only human female life history includes a significant post-fertile stage of life. We conclude that although a prolonged post-fertile stage of life is very rare in mammals, it does occur in some exceptionally long-lived taxa, such as humans and resident killer and short-finned pilot whales. Thus menopause evolved independently at least three times in mammals, and the reasons for its evolution may differ in different lineages.


Evolution of menopause Whale menopause Post-fertile lifespan primates 



M.S.M. Pavelka’s research is supported by ongoing Discovery Grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). L.J.N.Brent is supported by an Early Career Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust. D.P. Croft acknowledges funding from the NERC (NE/K01286X/1). L.M. Fedigan’s research has been supported since 1983 by ongoing Discovery Grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and from 2002 to 2016 by the Canada Research Chairs Program. We are thankful to Dr. Katharine Jack and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions on earlier versions of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mary S. M. Pavelka
    • 1
  • Lauren J. N. Brent
    • 2
  • D. P. Croft
    • 2
  • Linda M. Fedigan
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Anthropology and ArchaeologyUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada
  2. 2.Department of Psychology, Washington Singer LaboratoriesUniversity of ExeterExeterUK

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