Life span and reproductive cost explain interspecific variation in the optimal onset of reproduction

Emeline Mourocq, Pierre Bize, Sandra Bouwhuis, Russell Bradley, Anne Charmantier, Carlos de la Cruz, Szymon Drobniak, Richard H M Espie, Márton Herényi, Hermann Hötker, Oliver Krüger, John Marzluff, Anders P Møller, S Nakagawa, Richard A Phillips, Andrew N Radford, Alexandre Roulin, János Török, Juliana Valencia, Martijn van de PolIan G Warkentin, Isabel S Winney, Andrew G Wood, Michael Griesser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)
351 Downloads (Pure)


Fitness can be profoundly influenced by the age at first reproduction (AFR), but to date the AFR-fitness relationship only has been investigated intraspecifically. Here we investigated the relationship between AFR and average lifetime reproductive success (LRS) across 34 bird species. We assessed differences in the deviation of the Optimal AFR (i.e., the species specific AFR associated with the highest LRS) from the age at sexual maturity, considering potential effects of life-history as well as social and ecological factors. Most individuals adopted the species-specific Optimal AFR and both the mean and Optimal AFR of species correlated positively with lifespan. Interspecific deviations of the Optimal AFR were associated with indices reflecting a change in LRS or survival as a function of AFR: a delayed AFR was beneficial in species where early AFR was associated with a decrease in subsequent survival or reproductive output. Overall, our results suggest that a delayed onset of reproduction beyond maturity is an optimal strategy explained by a long lifespan and costs of early reproduction. By providing the first empirical confirmations of key predictions of life-history theory across species, this study contributes to a better understanding of life history evolution.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)296-313
Number of pages18
Issue number2
Early online date5 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - 16 Feb 2016


  • Age at first reproduction
  • comparative method
  • cost of reproduction
  • family formation theory
  • life-history theory


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