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Keywords:

  • game theory;
  • mating opportunities;
  • Oncorhynchus;
  • protandry;
  • reproductive lifespan;
  • reproductive timing;
  • senescence

Abstract

The timing and duration of reproductive activities are highly variable both at the individual and population level. Understanding how this variation evolved by natural selection is fundamental to understanding many important aspects of an organism's life history, ecology and behaviour. Here, we combine game theoretic principles governing reproductive timing and the evolutionary theory of senescence to study the interaction between protandry (the earlier arrival or emergence of males to breeding areas than females) and senescence in seasonal breeders. Our general model applies to males who are seeking to mate as frequently as possible over a relatively short period, and so is relevant to many organisms including annual insects and semelparous vertebrates. The model predicts that protandry and maximum reproductive lifespans should increase in environments characterized by high survival and by a low competitive cost of maintaining the somatic machinery necessary for survival. In relatively short seasons under these same conditions, seasonal declines in the reproductive lifespans of males of equivalent quality will be evolutionarily stable. However, over a broad range of potential values for daily survival and maintenance cost, reproductive lifespan is expected to be relatively short and constant throughout a large fraction of the season. We applied the model to sockeye (or kokanee) salmon Oncorhynchus nerka and show that pronounced seasonal declines in reproductive lifespan, a distinctive feature of semelparous Oncorhynchus spp., is likely part of a male mating strategy to maximize mating opportunities.