Retired flies, hidden plateaus, and the evolution of senescence in Drosophila melanogaster

James W. Curtsinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Late-life plateaus in age-specific mortality have been an evolutionary and biodemographic puzzle for decades. Although classic theory on the evolution of senescence predicts late-life walls of death, observations in experimental organisms document the opposite trend: a slowing in the rate of increase of mortality at advanced ages. Here, I analyze published life-history data on individual Drosophila melanogaster females and argue for a fundamental change in our understanding of mortality in this important model system. Mortality plateaus are not, as widely assumed, exclusive to late life, and are not explained by population heterogeneity-they are intimately connected to individual fecundity. Female flies begin adult life in the working stage, a period of active oviposition and low but accelerating mortality. Later they transition to the retired stage, a terminal period characterized by limited fecundity and relatively constant mortality. Because ages of transition differ between flies, age-synchronized cohorts contain a mix of working and retired flies. Early- and mid-life plateaus are obscured by the presence of working flies, but can be detected when cohorts are stratified by retirement status. Stage-specificity may be an important component of Drosophila life-history evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1297-1306
Number of pages10
JournalEvolution; international journal of organic evolution
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016


  • Drosophila
  • fecundity
  • heterogeneity models
  • mortality
  • senescence


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