Evolution

Wisdom of the elders

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Science  06 Mar 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6226, pp. 1110-1111
DOI: 10.1126/science.347.6226.1110-c

Older female killer whales provide a fitness advantage to their kin

PHOTO: © JOHN HYDE/DESIGN PICS/CORBIS

Menopause is something that humans share with only two other mammal species: killer whales and pilot whales. Menopause is at odds with classic evolutionary theory, which posits that once animals stop reproducing, natural selection stops too. However, Brent et al. now demonstrate the importance of keeping elders around. They found that older female killer whales lead their pods to salmon feeding grounds and that this leadership is especially important in years when food is scarce. Thus, older females can act as crucial repositories of ecological knowledge, improving their own inclusive fitness and the fitness of their younger relatives.

Curr. Biol. 10.1016/j.cub.2015.01.037 (2015).

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