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Experience versus effort: what explains dynamic heterogeneity with respect to age?


R. A. Mauck, Biology Dept, Kenyon College, Gambier, OH 43022, USA. E-mail:


Age-related patterns of survival and reproduction have been explained by accumulated experience (‘experience hypothesis’), increased effort (‘effort hypothesis’), and intrinsic differences in phenotypes (‘selection hypothesis’). We examined the experience and effort hypotheses using a 40-year data set in a population of Leach's storm-petrels Oceanodroma leucorhoa, long-lived seabirds for which the effect of phenotypic variation has been previously demonstrated. Age was quantified by time since recruitment (‘breeding age’). The best model of adult survival included a positive effect of breeding age (1, 2, 3+ years), sex (male > female), and year. Among-individuals variation (fixed heterogeneity) accounted for 31.6% of the variance in annual reproductive success. We further examined within-individual patterns in reproductive success (dynamic heterogeneity) in the subset of individuals with at least five breeding attempts. Three distinct phases characterized reproductive success – early increase, long asymptotic peak, late decline. No effect of early reproductive output on longevity was found, however, early success was positively correlated with lifetime reproductive success. Reproductive success was lower earlier than later in life. Among the few natally philopatric individuals in the population, age of first breeding had no effect on longevity, lifetime reproductive success, or early reproductive success. No support for the effort hypothesis was found in this population. Instead, age-specific patterns of survival and reproduction in these birds are best explained by the experience hypothesis over and above the effect of intrinsic differences among individuals.