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Keywords:

  • Ageing;
  • fitness;
  • reproductive costs;
  • reproductive success;
  • survival

Abstract

Although studies on laboratory species and natural populations of vertebrates have shown reproduction to impair later performance, little is known of the age-specific associations between reproduction and survival, and how such findings apply to the ageing of large, long-lived species. Herein we develop a framework to examine population-level patterns of reproduction and survival across lifespan in long-lived organisms, and decompose those changes into individual-level effects, and the effects of age-specific trade-offs between fitness components. We apply this to an extensive longitudinal dataset on female semi-captive Asian timber elephants (Elephas maximus) and report the first evidence of age-specific fitness declines that are driven by age-specific associations between fitness components in a long-lived mammal. Associations between reproduction and survival are positive in early life, but negative in later life with up to 71% of later-life survival declines associated with investing in the production of offspring within this population of this critically endangered species.