Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Wild Chimpanzees Appear Not To Regularly Experience Menopause

Date:
December 19, 2007
Source:
Harvard University
Summary:
A pioneering study of wild chimpanzees has found that these close human relatives do not routinely experience menopause, rebutting previous studies of captive individuals which had postulated that female chimpanzees reach reproductive senescence at 35 to 40 years of age. Together with recent data from wild gorillas and orangutans, the finding suggests that human females are rare or even unique among primates in experiencing a lengthy post-reproductive lifespan.

Elderly chimpanzee. Wild chimpanzees appear not to regularly experience menopause.
Credit: iStockphoto/Ruben Vicente

A pioneering study of wild chimpanzees has found that these close human relatives do not routinely experience menopause, rebutting previous studies of captive individuals which had postulated that female chimpanzees reach reproductive senescence at 35 to 40 years of age.

Together with recent data from wild gorillas and orangutans, the finding suggests that human females are rare or even unique among primates in experiencing a lengthy post-reproductive lifespan.

"We find no evidence that menopause is common among wild chimpanzee populations," says lead author Melissa Emery Thompson, a postdoctoral researcher in anthropology at Harvard University. "While some female chimpanzees do technically outlive their fertility, it's not at all uncommon for individuals in their 40s and 50s -- quite elderly for wild chimpanzees -- to remain reproductively active."

While wild chimpanzees and humans both experience fertility declines starting in the fourth decade of life, most other human organ systems can remain healthy and functional for many years longer, far outstripping the longevity of the reproductive system and giving many women several decades of post-reproductive life.

By contrast, in chimpanzees reproductive declines occur in tandem with overall mortality. A chimpanzee's life expectancy at birth is only 15 years, and just 7 percent of individuals live to age 40. But females who do reach such advanced ages tend to remain fertile to the end, Emery Thompson and her colleagues found, with 47 percent giving birth once after age 40, including 12 percent observed to give birth twice after age 40.

"Fertility in chimpanzees declines at a similar pace to the decline in survival probability, whereas human reproduction nearly ceases at a time when mortality is still very low," the researchers write in Current Biology. "This suggests that reproductive senescence in chimpanzees, unlike in humans, is consistent with the somatic aging process."

In other words, human evolution has resulted in an extended life span without complementary extended reproduction.

"Why hasn't reproduction kept pace with the general increase in human longevity? It may be because there hasn't been anything for natural selection to act on, though there is heritable variation in age of menopause," Emery Thompson says. "However, it may be that the advantage older females gain by assisting their grandchildren outstrips any advantage they might get by reproducing themselves."

The oldest known wild chimpanzee, who died earlier this year at approximately age 63, gave birth to her last offspring just eight years ago, at about 55. Female chimpanzees only give birth every 6 to 8 years, on average, and they generally begin reproducing at age 13 to 15. This makes the chimpanzee reproductive profile much longer and flatter than that of humans, whose procreation is concentrated from age 25 to 35.

Emery Thompson and her colleagues gathered data from six wild chimpanzee populations in Tanzania, Uganda, Guinea, and Gambia. They compared these chimpanzees' fertility patterns to those seen among two well-studied human foraging populations, in Botswana and Paraguay.

This research was described recently in the journal Current Biology.

Emery Thompson's co-authors are Richard W. Wrangham of Harvard; James H. Jones of Stanford University; Anne E. Pusey and Jane Goodall of the Jane Goodall Institute; Stella Brewer-Marsden and David Marsden of the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Trust; Tetsuro Matsuzawa, Toshisada Nishida, and Yukimaru Sugiyama of Kyoto University; and Vernon Reynolds of Oxford University. Their work was supported by numerous organizations, with primary funding coming from the National Science Foundation, MEXT Japan, the Jane Goodall Institute, and the Louis Leakey Foundation.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Harvard University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Harvard University. "Wild Chimpanzees Appear Not To Regularly Experience Menopause." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 December 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/071213120950.htm>.
Harvard University. (2007, December 19). Wild Chimpanzees Appear Not To Regularly Experience Menopause. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/071213120950.htm
Harvard University. "Wild Chimpanzees Appear Not To Regularly Experience Menopause." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/071213120950.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

AP (July 30, 2014) Thousands of people are trekking to a Bavarian farmer's field to check out a mysterious set of crop circles. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Concern Grows Over Worsening Ebola Crisis

Concern Grows Over Worsening Ebola Crisis

AFP (July 30, 2014) Pan-African airline ASKY has suspended all flights to and from the capitals of Liberia and Sierra Leone amid the worsening Ebola health crisis, which has so far caused 672 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Duration: 00:43 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey

At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey

AP (July 30, 2014) At least 20 New Jersey residents have tested positive for chikungunya, a mosquito-borne virus that has spread through the Caribbean. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Xtreme Eating: Your Daily Caloric Intake All On One Plate

Xtreme Eating: Your Daily Caloric Intake All On One Plate

Newsy (July 30, 2014) The Center for Science in the Public Interest released its 2014 list of single meals with whopping calorie counts. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile: iPhone Android Web
      Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins