Age-related variation in reproductive traits in the wandering albatross: evidence for terminal improvement following senescence
The processes driving age-related variation in demographic rates are central to understanding population and evolutionary ecology. An increasing number of studies in wild vertebrates find evidence for improvements in reproductive performance traits in early adulthood, followed by senescent declines in later life. However, life history theory predicts that reproductive investment should increase with age as future survival prospects diminish, and that raised reproductive investment may have associated survival costs. These non-mutually exclusive processes both predict an increase in breeding performance at the terminal breeding attempt. Here, we use a 30-year study of wandering albatrosses (Diomedea exulans) to disentangle the processes underpinning age-related variation in reproduction. Whilst highlighting the importance of breeding experience, we reveal senescent declines in performance are followed by a striking increase in breeding success and a key parental investment trait at the final breeding attempt.