True story, according to a recent study breeding takes years off their little lives – but interestingly enough non breeding individuals STILL die younger. Let’s explore why this is such a fascinating fact.
If you are unfamiliar with the relationship between mating opportunity and lifespan, know now that it is a thing and in mammals that live in a community there exists a rather notable correlation. In our primate cousins, individuals who have access to breeding potential will also typically show a higher status within the group*. This means better access to food and the benefits that tie in with all that – think of it like living in the US, breeding monkeys are like wealthy people that have better access to health care and other opportunities. In other social animals, there is a similar pattern revealing itself on varying levels of complexities. And it makes sense – breeding individuals are more valuable to a species. They are the ones with the good genes, the ones you want to make up the population, so nature has a way of prioritizing them over the less desirable individuals. Sad but true – nature is a cruel mistress.
Recently, researchers sought to investigate this same phenomenon in the beloved Meerkat. (Timon from Lion King is a meerkat – in case you are uncertain as to what a meerkat is). One way to measure the capability of life expectancy is by looking directly at an area of the DNA responsible for aging. The region that caps the end of DNA strands are called telomeres and as we age these regions diminish in length. Once they are gone or down to nearly nothing, the strand is rendered useless and stuff starts going wrong – hence aging and natural death due to the process. Of course telomere shrinking does not take into account the idea of being taken by predators, disease or other potential killers.
In meerkats, individuals who breed more often showed correlation with shrinking telomeres, indicating that they are aging at an accelerated rate. Those who are not breeding as often, however, will take more risks to try an do so – often leaving their group in search of mates out in the world. Because of this risky behaviour, they are far more likely to get snagged by a hawk or a snake, which commonly occurs with these little solo travellers.
So there we have it – meerkats who get more action age faster, but won’t die faster. Interesting!
The source: HERE