Myanmar Timber Elephant Project

Asian elephants exhibit post-reproductive lifespans – Read the newest paper in BMC Evolutionary Biology by Simon Chapman et al.

October 23, 2019

Chapman SN, Jackson J, Htut W, Lummaa V, Lahdenperä M (2019): Asian elephants exhibit post-reproductive lifespans. BMC Evolutionary Biology.

Background: The existence of extended post-reproductive lifespan is an evolutionary puzzle, and its taxonomic prevalence is debated. One way of measuring post-reproductive life is with post-reproductive representation, the proportion of adult years lived by females after cessation of reproduction. Analyses of post-reproductive representation in mammals have claimed that only humans and some toothed whale species exhibit extended post-reproductive life, but there are suggestions of a post-reproductive stage for false killer whales and Asian elephants. Here, we investigate the presence of post-reproductive lifespan in Asian elephants using an extended demographic dataset collected from semi-captive timber elephants in Myanmar. Furthermore, we investigate the sensitivity of post-reproductive representation values to availability of long-term data over 50 years.
Results: We find support for the presence of an extended post-reproductive stage in Asian elephants, and that post-reproductive representation and its underlying demographic rates depend on the length of study period in a long-lived animal.
Conclusions: The extended post-reproductive lifespan is unlikely due to physiological reproductive cessation, and may instead be driven by mating preferences or condition-dependent fertility. Our results also show that it is crucial to revisit such population measures in long-lived species as more data is collected, and if the typical lifespan of the species exceeds the initial study period.
Keywords: Asian elephant, Demography, Fertility, Long-term data, Post-reproductive life, Reproductive cessation