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The shape of the association between age and the cost of reproduction varies across species. However, it is unclear whether there are any general patterns in the way the cost of reproduction varies with life history, taxon or ecological function. Using a simple theoretical method, we identified three characteristic patterns to describe the age-related survival cost of reproduction. The most frequent pattern is an approximately exponential decay (ED) with increasing age. Two additional u-shaped patterns were identified, where the cost of reproduction was higher for young and old individuals compared with intermediate-aged individuals. The majority of these u-shaped curves suggested higher costs of reproduction at older ages (RQ), with the rest suggesting a higher cost at young ages (LQ). While predators were most likely to exhibit ED-shaped cost curves, herbivores were equally likely to exhibit ED and RQ curves; birds were likely to exhibit ED-shaped curves and mammals were split equally between ED and RQ curves. These findings suggest that there may be predictable differences in the age-related shape of the cost of reproduction between species, but further research is required to identify the mechanisms generating such differences.

Original publication




Journal article


Biol Lett

Publication Date





674 - 677


Age Factors, Animals, Birds, Feeding Behavior, Fishes, Mammals, Models, Biological, Reproduction, Reptiles, Vertebrates