Age-related changes in somatic condition and reproduction in the Eurasian beaver: Resource history influences onset of reproductive senescence.
Campbell RD., Rosell F., Newman C., Macdonald DW.
Using 15 years of data from a stable population of wild Eurasian beavers (Castor fiber), we examine how annual and lifetime access to food resources affect individual age-related changes in reproduction and somatic condition. We found an age-related decline in annual maternal reproductive output, after a peak at age 5-6. Rainfall, an established negative proxy of annual resource availability for beavers, was consistently associated with lower reproductive output for females of all ages. In contrast, breeding territory quality, as a measure of local resource history over reproductive lifetimes, caused differences in individual patterns of reproductive senescence; animals from lower quality territories senesced when younger. Litter size was unrelated to maternal age, although adult body weight increased with age. In terms of resource effects, in poorer years but not in better years, older mothers produced larger offspring than did younger mothers, giving support to the constraint theory. Overall, our findings exemplify state-dependent life-history strategies, supporting an effect of resources on reproductive senescence, where cumulative differences in resource access, and not just reproductive strategy, mediate long-term reproductive trade-offs, consistent with the disposable soma and reproductive restraint theories. We propose that flexible life-history schedules could play a role in the dynamics of populations exhibiting reproductive skew, with earlier breeding opportunities leading to an earlier senescence schedule through resource dependent mechanisms.