Hematocrit, age, and survival in a wild vertebrate population

Thomas J. Brown, Martijn Hammers, Martin Taylor, Hannah L. Dugdale, Jan Komdeur, David S. Richardson

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11 Citations (Scopus)
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Understanding trade‐offs in wild populations is difficult, but important if we are to understand the evolution of life histories and the impact of ecological variables upon them. Markers that reflect physiological state and predict future survival would be of considerable benefit to unraveling such trade‐offs and could provide insight into individual variation in senescence. However, currently used markers often yield inconsistent results. One underutilized measure is hematocrit, the proportion of blood comprising erythrocytes, which relates to the blood's oxygen‐carrying capacity and viscosity, and to individual endurance. Hematocrit has been shown to decline with age in cross‐sectional studies (which may be confounded by selective appearance/disappearance). However, few studies have tested whether hematocrit declines within individuals or whether low hematocrit impacts survival in wild taxa. Using longitudinal data from the Seychelles warbler (Acrocephalus sechellensis), we demonstrated that hematocrit increases with age in young individuals (<1.5 years) but decreases with age in older individuals (1.5–13 years). In breeders, hematocrit was higher in males than females and varied relative to breeding stage. High hematocrit was associated with lower survival in young individuals, but not older individuals. Thus, while we did not find support for hematocrit as a marker of senescence, high hematocrit is indicative of poor condition in younger individuals. Possible explanations are that these individuals were experiencing dehydration and/or high endurance demands prior to capture, which warrants further investigation. Our study demonstrates that hematocrit can be an informative metric for life‐history studies investigating trade‐offs between survival, longevity, and reproduction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)214-226
Number of pages13
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number1
Early online date21 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


  • aging
  • biomarkers
  • birds
  • condition markers
  • hematocrit
  • life history
  • senescence
  • survival
  • trade-offs
  • wild populations

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