Arboreality has allowed for the evolution of increased longevity in mammals

Milena R. Shattuck, Scott A. Williams

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The evolutionary theory of aging predicts that species will experience delayed senescence and increased longevity when rates of extrinsicmortality are reduced. It has long been recognized that birds and bats are characterized by lower rates of extrinsic mortality and greater longevities than nonvolant endotherms, presumably because flight reduces exposure to terrestrial predators, disease, and environmental hazards. Like flight, arboreality may act to reduce extrinsic mortality, delay senescence, and increase longevity and has been suggested as an explanation for the long lifespans of primates. However, this hypothesis has yet to be tested inmammals in general. We analyze a large dataset of mammalian longevity records to test whether arboreal mammals are characterized by greater longevities than terrestrialmammals. Here, weshowthat arboreal mammals are longer lived than terrestrial mammals at common body sizes, independent of phylogeny. Subclade analyses demonstrate that this trend holds true in nearly every mammalian subgroup, with two notable exceptions- metatherians (marsupials) and euarchontans (primates and their close relatives). These subgroups are unique in that each has experienced a long and persistent arboreal evolutionary history, with subsequent transitions to terrestriality occurring multiple times within each group. In all other clades examined, terrestriality appears to be the primitive condition, and species that become arboreal tend to experience increased longevity, often independently in multiple lineages within each clade. Adoption of an arboreal lifestyle may have allowed for increased longevity in these lineages and in primates in general.Overall, these results confirm the fundamental predictions of the evolutionary theory of aging.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)4635-4639
    Number of pages5
    JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
    Issue number10
    StatePublished - Mar 9 2010


    • Extrinsic mortality
    • Marsupials
    • Primates
    • Senescence
    • Terrestriality

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General


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