Sexual displays brings on premature ageing in bustards

August 5th, 2011 - 6:47 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Aug 5 (IANS) Male houbara bustards rely on sexual flamboyance to charm females, but those performing the most extravagant displays seem to trigger premature ageing and pass their reproductive prime earlier than their low profile rivals, say scientists.

Houbara bustards, natives of some of the world’s harshest desert environs from Persian Gulf to the Gobi Desert, devote six months of the year performing such rituals to court passing females, according to a study in the journal Ecology Letters.

Extravagant male birds, however, tend to produce ‘burnt-out’, smaller ejaculates, containing high numbers of dead and abnormal sperm.

Research has shown that the ’showiest’ of them produce the highest quality sperm when they mate.

However, work by Brian Preston from the University of Burgundy (France) reveals that this effort takes its toll.

“This is the bird equivalent of the posers who strut their stuff in bars and nightclubs every weekend,” said Preston, who led the study.

“If the bustard is anything to go by, these same guys will be reaching for their toupees sooner than they’d like,” added Preston.

“The bustard shows that an over-abundance of early reproductive effort comes at the cost of physiological declines later in life.

“This early versus late life trade-off can help explain why senescence occurs, and reveals the potential significance of sexual selection in explaining rates of ageing,” said Preston.

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