The evolutionary explanation of senescence proposes that selection against alleles with deleterious effects manifested only late in life is weak because most individuals die earlier for extrinsic reasons. This argument also applies to alleles whose deleterious effects are nongenetically transmitted from mother to progeny, that is, that affect the performance of progeny produced at late ages rather than of the aging individuals themselves. We studied the effect of maternal age on offspring viability (egg hatching success and larva-to-adult survival) in two sets of Drosophila melanogaster lines (HAM/LAM and YOUNG/OLD), originating from two long-term selection experiments. In each set, some lines (HAM and YOUNG, respectively) have been selected for early reproduction, whereas later reproduction was favored in their counterparts (LAM and OLD). In the HAM and LAM lines, both egg hatching success and larval viability declined with mother's age and did so with accelerating rates. The hatching success declined significantly faster with maternal age in HAM than in LAM lines, according to one of two statistical approaches used. Egg hatching success also declined with maternal age in YOUNG and OLD lines, with no difference between the selection regimes. However, the relationship between mother's age and offspring larva-to-adult viability differed significantly between these two selection regimes: a decline of larval viability with maternal age occurred in YOUNG lines but not in OLD lines. This suggests that the rate with which offspring viability declines with mother's age responded to selection for early versus late reproduction. We suggest broadening the evolutionary concept of senescence to include intrinsically caused declines in offspring quality with maternal age.
Corresponding Editor: T. Mousseau