Evolution of sex differences in lifespan and aging: Causes and constraints



Why do the two sexes have different lifespans and rates of aging? Two hypotheses based on asymmetric inheritance of sex chromosomes (“unguarded X”) or mitochondrial genomes (“mother's curse”) explain sex differences in lifespan as sex-specific maladaptation leading to increased mortality in the shorter-lived sex. While asymmetric inheritance hypotheses equate long life with high fitness, considerable empirical evidence suggests that sexes resolve the fundamental tradeoff between reproduction and survival differently resulting in sex-specific optima for lifespan. However, selection for sex-specific values in life-history traits is constrained by intersexual genetic correlations resulting in intra-locus sexual conflict over optimal lifespan. The available data suggest that the evolution of sexual dimorphism only partially resolves these conflicts. Sexual conflict over optimal trait values, which has been demonstrated in model organisms and in humans, is likely to play a key role in shaping the evolution of lifespan, as well as in maintaining genetic variation for sex-specific diseases.