Interactive effects of parental age on offspring fitness and age-assortative mating in a wild bird


Variation in parental age can have important consequences for offspring fitness and the structure of populations and disease transmission. However, our understanding of the effects of parental age on offspring in natural populations is limited. Here, we investigate consequences of parental age for offspring fitness and test for age-assortative mating in a short-lived bird, the house wren (Troglodytes aedon). Offspring immunoresponsiveness increased with maternal age and decreased with paternal age, but the strength of these effects varied with the age of one's mate. Offspring immunoresponsiveness was augmented most with older mothers and younger fathers. Thus, we expected this combination of ages to yield the highest offspring fitness. However, offspring recruitment, longevity, and lifetime reproductive success were greatest when both parents were of above-average age. Consistent with the interactive effects of parental age on offspring fitness, we detected positive age-assortative mating among breeding pairs. Our results suggest that selection favors age-assortative mating, but in different ways depending on how parental ages affect offspring. We suggest that, in this short-lived species, selection for combinations of parental ages that maximize offspring immune responses is likely weaker than selection to produce breeding adults.

Publication Title

Journal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological and Integrative Physiology