Ageing in the wild: patterns and sources of ageing variation in a passerine bird
Principal researcher: David Canal
Ageing, the progressive loss of physiological integrity with age, lead to the decline in reproductive performance and/or survival, also known as senescence. Contrary to initial assumptions, research in recent decades indicates that senescence is ubiquitous in nature, particularly among vertebrate species. However, whereas previous studies have revealed a great diversity in ageing patterns within and among individuals and across species, the underlying causes and mechanisms of this variation remain poorly understood, particularly in wild populations. Thus, investigating the sources and context-dependence of ageing variation in natural systems is a crucial next step to advance our understanding of this complex and multifaceted phenomenon. Using a wild bird model system, the project will focus on several under-explored aspects of ageing in natural populations. Specifically, we aim to: i) examine ageing trajectories of multiple traits within- and between-individuals and between sexes; ii) investigate intrinsic and extrinsic drivers of individual variation in ageing, such as genetics, natal environmental conditions and reproductive decisions; ii) study the role of the gut microbiome as a critical mediator of ageing. Through these objectives, the proposed research will significantly expand our understanding of the patterns and architecture of ageing in natural contexts, a phenomenon that is inherently interconnected with multiple basic and applied fields.