Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Predators predict longevity of birds


Ageing inevitably occurs both in humans and in other animals. However, life-span varies widely across species.

Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen have now found a possible general mechanism explaining differences in longevity. They investigated life history data of nearly 1400 bird species and found that avian life span varies considerably across the globe, and that much of this variation can be explained by the species’ body mass and clutch size and by the local diversity of predator species. With their data the researchers were able to confirm a key prediction of the classical evolutionary theory of ageing that had been proposed more than 50 years ago.

A pomarine skua (Stercorarius pomarinus) with a male Lapland longspur (Calcarius lapponicus) in its beak (taken at Barrow, Alaska).

© MPIO Seewiesen/ W. Forstmeier

It is well-known that organisms vary widely in life-span. Whereas some fish, turtles or even invertebrates can become hundreds of years old, the neon pygmy goby – a small fish - reaches ripe old age at only 60 days. In birds, variation in life-span extends from parrots such as the Sulphur-crested cockatoo that can become more than 100 years old, to the small Allen’s hummingbird with a maximum life-span of only 4 years, a 25 fold difference. How can this variation be explained?

The classical evolutionary theory of ageing, first proposed by the famous evolutionary biologist George C. Williams over 50 years ago, gives an answer. The theory predicts that high mortality rates in adult animals due to predation, exposure to parasites and other randomly occurring events will be associated with shorter maximum life-spans. This is because under high external mortality most individuals will already be dead (eaten or succumbed to disease) before natural selection can act on rare mutations that cause healthier ageing. The theory has since been further developed and tested in a number of experimental and comparative studies. Yet contradictory results have caused scientists to cast doubt on its validity.

Mihai Valcu and Bart Kempenaers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen together with colleagues from New Zealand and Switzerland have now tested this theory using a comprehensive database on estimates of maximum life-span of 1396 bird species, 1128 from free-living species and 268 from birds kept in captivity. The researchers used a global distribution map of these species, included data on their morphology and reproductive rate, and estimated predation rate.

By means of complex statistical analysis methods they found that in the investigated bird species maximum longevity is negatively related to the number of predator species occurring within the same geographical area. This means that the more predator species are present in the same habitat and the more evenly they are distributed, the lower is the life span of the respective species. This relationship supports the classical theory of ageing, and remains valid when other life history traits known to influence longevity such as body mass and clutch size are included into the statistical model. Indeed, larger species live longer, and those that reproduce fast (lay more eggs) live shorter lives.

Remarkably, the observed pattern showing longer life-spans when fewer predators are present emerges no matter how the analysis was done: at the species level, at a finer regional scale (groups of species within a certain area) or even when comparing entire bioregions. “With our results of a negative relationship between predation pressure and longevity that is largely independent of other key life history traits we were able to confirm the universality of the 50 year old evolutionary theory of ageing on a broad geographical scale” concludes Mihai Valcu, first author of the study. At least in birds, where the necessary data are available for many species, the theory seems to hold.

Weitere Informationen:

Dr. Stefan Leitner | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

Further reports about: Max-Planck-Institut Ornithology Predators ageing geographical mortality

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Flipping molecular attachments amps up activity of CO2 catalyst
06.10.2015 | DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory

nachricht Safe nanomotors propelled by sugar
06.10.2015 | Max-Planck-Institut für Intelligente Systeme

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Physicists shrink particle accelerator

Prototype demonstrates feasibility of building terahertz accelerators

An interdisciplinary team of researchers has built the first prototype of a miniature particle accelerator that uses terahertz radiation instead of radio...

Im Focus: Simple detection of magnetic skyrmions

New physical effect: researchers discover a change of electrical resistance in magnetic whirls

At present, tiny magnetic whirls – so called skyrmions – are discussed as promising candidates for bits in future robust and compact data storage devices. At...

Im Focus: High-speed march through a layer of graphene

In cooperation with the Center for Nano-Optics of Georgia State University in Atlanta (USA), scientists of the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics of the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität have made simulations of the processes that happen when a layer of carbon atoms is irradiated with strong laser light.

Electrons hit by strong laser pulses change their location on ultrashort timescales, i.e. within a couple of attoseconds (1 as = 10 to the minus 18 sec). In...

Im Focus: Battery Production: Laser Light instead of Oven-Drying and Vacuum Technology

At the exhibition BATTERY + STORAGE as part of WORLD OF ENERGY SOLUTIONS 2015 in Stuttgart, the Fraunhofer Institutes for Laser Technology ILT and for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS will be showing how laser technology can be used to manufacture batteries both cost- and energy-efficiently.

In the truest sense, it’s all about watts at the Dresden-based Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS and the Aachen-based Fraunhofer...

Im Focus: New Sinumerik features improve productivity and precision

EMO 2015, Hall 3, Booth E06/F03

  • Drive optimization called automatically by the part program boosts productivity
  • Automatically switching the dynamic values to rapid traverse and interpolation...
All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

EHFG 2015: Securing healthcare and sustainably strengthening healthcare systems

01.10.2015 | Event News

Conference in Brussels: Tracking and Tracing the Smallest Marine Life Forms

30.09.2015 | Event News

World Alzheimer`s Day – Professor Willnow: Clearer Insights into the Development of the Disease

17.09.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Graphene teams up with two-dimensional crystals for faster data communications

06.10.2015 | Information Technology

Laser-wielding physicists seize control of atoms' behavior

06.10.2015 | Physics and Astronomy

Flipping molecular attachments amps up activity of CO2 catalyst

06.10.2015 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>