A long postreproductive life span is a shared trait among genetically distinct killer whale populations

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Nielsen, Mia Lybkær Kronborg  ORCID logo  https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3488-6263
Doniol‐Valcroze, Thomas 

Abstract: The extended female postreproductive life span found in humans and some toothed whales remains an evolutionary puzzle. Theory predicts demographic patterns resulting in increased female relatedness with age (kinship dynamics) can select for a prolonged postreproductive life span due to the combined costs of intergenerational reproductive conflict and benefits of late‐life helping. Here, we test this prediction using >40 years of longitudinal demographic data from the sympatric yet genetically distinct killer whale ecotypes: resident and Bigg's killer whales. The female relatedness with age is predicted to increase in both ecotypes, but with a less steep increase in Bigg's due to their different social structure. Here, we show that there is a significant postreproductive life span in both ecotypes with >30% of adult female years being lived as postreproductive, supporting the general prediction that an increase in local relatedness with age predisposes the evolution of a postreproductive life span. Differences in the magnitude of kinship dynamics however did not influence the timing or duration of the postreproductive life span with females in both ecotypes terminating reproduction before their mid‐40s followed by an expected postreproductive period of about 20 years. Our results highlight the important role of kinship dynamics in the evolution of a long postreproductive life span in long‐lived mammals, while further implying that the timing of menopause may be a robust trait that is persistent despite substantial variation in demographic patterns among populations.

ORIGINAL RESEARCH, kinship dynamics, postreproductive life span, menopause, Orcinus orca
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Ecology and Evolution
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Natural Environment Research Council (NE/L002434/1, NE/S010327/1)