Good genes and old age: Do old mates provide superior genes?


  • T. F. Hansen,

    Corresponding author
    1. Division of Zoology, Department of Biology, University of Oslo, P.O. Box 1050, Blindern, N-0316, Oslo, Norway
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  • D. K. Price

    1. Department of Biology, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403, USA
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    • 2

      Current address: Department of Biological Sciences, East Texas State University, Commerce, TX 75429 3011, USA. The contributions from the authors are equal.

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It has been suggested that female preference for older mates in species without parental care has evolved in response to an alleged higher genetic quality of older individuals. This is based on the widespread assumption that viability selection produces older individuals that are genetically superior to younger individuals. In contrast, we propose that the oldest individuals rarely are genetically superior. Quantitative genetic models of life history evolution indicate that young to intermediately aged individuals are likely to possess the highest breeding values of fitness. This conclusion is based on four arguments: 1) Viability selection on older individuals may decrease or at least not substantially increase breeding values of fitness, because there may exist negative genetic correlations between late-age and early-age life history parameters, 2) Fertility selection is likely to raise the fitness of gametes produced by young individuals more than those produced by old individuals, because the covariance between fertility and fitness often decreases with age, 3) The history of selection on their parents makes younger individuals more fit than older individuals, 4) Germ-line mutations, which are generally deleterious, significantly decrease the breeding value of fitness of an individual throughout its lifespan, especially in males. Therefore, females that mate with the oldest males in a population are doing so for reasons other than to obtain offspring of high genetic quality.