Even Among Wild Mammals, Females Live Longer

Elephant Seal

Female mammals live longer than males on average because they have lower mortality risk at all ages,

In all human populations, average lifespans are longer for women than for men. Moreover, nine out of ten supercentenarians — that is, people 110 years old and up — are women. But what about for other mammals, in the wild?

A team led by Jean-François Lemaître, a CNRS researcher at the Biometry and Evolutionary Biology laboratory (CNRS / Claude Bernard Lyon 1 University / VetAgro Sup), compiled demographic data for 134 populations of 101 mammalian species — from bats to lions, orcas to gorillas — making their study the widest reaching and most precise to date. In 60% of the cases, female mammals live longer than males: 18.6% longer on average (versus only 7.8% longer in humans).

Is this because male mortality rates rise faster with age? Not necessarily, according to Lemaître’s team: for about half of the populations studied, the rise in mortality with age is even more pronounced among female mammals. However, mortality risk is lower among females at all ages.

Elephant Seals

Northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) in the Año Nuevo colony (California, USA). Here a male surrounded by his harem is emitting a cry to mark his territory. Elephant seals are one of the species in which females outlive males. Credit: © Isabelle CHARRIER / Neuro-PSI / CNRS Photothèque

Reference: “Sex differences in adult lifespan and aging rates of mortality across wild mammals” by Jean-François Lemaître, Victor Ronget, Morgane Tidière, Dominique Allainé, Vérane Berger, Aurélie Cohas, Fernando Colchero, Dalia A. Conde, Michael Garratt, András Liker, Gabriel A. B. Marais, Alexander Scheuerlein, Tamás Székely and Jean-Michel Gaillard, 23 March 2020, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1911999117

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