The reproductive advantages of a long life: longevity and senescence in wild female African elephants


Lee PC, Fishlock V, Webber CE & Moss CJ (2016) The reproductive advantages of a long life: longevity and senescence in wild female African elephants. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 70 (3), pp. 337-345.

Long-lived species such as elephants, whales and primates exhibit extended post-fertile survival compared to species with shorter lifespans but data on age-related fecundity and survival are limited to few species or populations. We assess relationships between longevity, reproductive onset, reproductive rate and age for 834 longitudinally monitored wild female African elephants in Amboseli, Kenya. The mean known age at first reproduction was 13.8years; only 5% commenced reproduction by 10years. Early reproducers (<12.5years) had higher age-specific fertility rates than did females who commenced reproduction late (15+ years) with no differences in survival between these groups. Age-specific reproductive rates of females dying before 40years were reduced by comparison to same-aged survivors, illustrating a mortality filter and reproductive advantages of a long life. Overall, 95% of fertility was completed before 50, and 95% of mortality experienced by age 65, with a mean life expectancy of 41years for females who survived to the minimum age at first birth (9years). Elephant females have a relatively long period (c. 16years) of viability after 95% completed fertility, although reproduction does not entirely cease until they are over 65. We found no evidence of increased investment among females aged over 40 in terms of delay to next birth or calf mortality. The presence of a mother reproducing simultaneously with her daughter was associated with higher rates of daughter reproduction suggesting advantages from maternal (and grandmaternal) co-residence during reproduction.

Age-specific reproductive rates; Care allocation; Mortality filters; Post-reproductive survival; Grandmothering

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology: Volume 70, Issue 3

Publication date31/03/2016
Publication date online19/01/2016
Date accepted by journal07/12/2015