Sex‐dependent effects of parental age on offspring fitness in a cooperatively breeding bird

Alexandra M. Sparks, Martijn Hammers, Jan Komdeur, Terry Burke, David S. Richardson, Hannah L. Dugdale

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Parental age can have considerable effects on offspring phenotypes and health. However, intergenerational effects may also have longer term effects on offspring fitness. Few studies have investigated parental age effects on offspring fitness in natural populations while also testing for sex- and environment-specific effects. Further, longitudinal parental age effects may be masked by population-level processes such as the selective disappearance of poor-quality individuals. Here, we used multigenerational data collected on individually marked Seychelles warblers (Acrocephalus sechellensis) to investigate the impact of maternal and paternal age on offspring life span and lifetime reproductive success. We found negative effects of maternal age on female offspring life span and lifetime reproductive success, which were driven by within-mother effects. There was no difference in annual reproductive output of females born to older versus younger mothers, suggesting that the differences in offspring lifetime reproductive success were driven by effects on offspring life span. In contrast, there was no association between paternal age and female offspring life span or either maternal or paternal age and male offspring life span. Lifetime reproductive success, but not annual reproductive success, of male offspring increased with maternal age, but this was driven by between-mother effects. No paternal age effects were found on female offspring lifetime reproductive success but there was a positive between-father effect on male offspring lifetime reproductive success. We did not find strong evidence for environment-dependent parental age effects. Our study provides evidence for parental age effects on the lifetime fitness of offspring and shows that such effects can be sex dependent. These results add to the growing literature indicating the importance of intergenerational effects on long-term offspring performance and highlight that these effects can be an important driver of variation in longevity and fitness in the wild.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)438-449
Number of pages12
JournalEvolution Letters
Issue number6
Early online date16 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022


  • Ageing
  • Lansing effect
  • Seychelles warbler
  • fitness
  • intergenerational effects
  • life span
  • maternal age effect
  • paternal age effect
  • senescence

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