Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Killer whales and the mystery of human menopause

Date:
July 2, 2010
Source:
University of Exeter
Summary:
The evolutionary mystery of menopause is a step closer to being solved thanks to research on killer whales. A new study has found a link between killer whales, pilot whales and humans -- the only three known species where females stop breeding relatively early in their lifespan.

Killer whale.
Credit: iStockphoto/Christopher Meder

The evolutionary mystery of menopause is a step closer to being solved thanks to research on killer whales.

Related Articles


A study by the Universities of Exeter and Cambridge has found a link between killer whales, pilot whales and humans -- the only three known species where females stop breeding relatively early in their lifespan.

Despite very different social structures between the three species, the research shows that in each case females become increasingly genetically related to those they live with as they get older. Because of this, there is a motivation for older females to do what is best for the survival of those around them.

This creates a 'grandmother' role, where the success rate of breeding in the group can be helped by older females sharing parenting knowledge and stopping breeding to allow younger females easier access to resources.

The research, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first to provide a plausible explanation why these species in particular are the only ones in which females finish reproduction while they still have decades left to live.

Dr Michael Cant, from the University of Exeter's School of Biosciences (Cornwall Campus) and a Royal Society University Research Fellow, said: "It's always been puzzling as to why only humans and toothed whales have evolved menopause, while females in all other long-lived species continue breeding until late in life.

"Although the social behaviours of the three menopausal species are very different, there is a common link: their social systems mean females become more related to those around them as they get older. This predisposes females of our species, and those of killer whales and pilot whales, to the evolution of menopause and late life helping."

Humans are thought to have evolved in groups in which young females left their group to find a mate. This would have meant they started their reproductive lives in families to whom they were genetically unrelated. Later in life, however, as their offspring start to breed, they become more genetically related to those around them and have the option to cease reproduction to help raise their 'grand-offspring'.

However, this argument doesn't seem to explain menopause in killer whales or pilot whales, in which both sexes remain in their natal family groups throughout their life, but occasionally come together with other groups to mate. The new research, however, shows this very different social system has the same overall effect on patterns of genetic similarity within groups: females become more closely related to infants in the group as they get older.

By contrast with humans and menopausal whales, in other long lived mammals it is typically males who leave the group to breed, and females who stay with their mother. According to the research, in this case older females will be selected to continue breeding rather than give up reproduction to help raise grandchildren.

Dr Rufus Johnstone, from the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge, and co-author of the study, said: "For the first time we can see a common link between menopausal species which provides a valid explanation as to why this trait might have evolved. This isn't likely to be the only factor relevant to the evolution of 'grandmothering' and menopause, but it does give us an idea why it is restricted to so few species in the animal kingdom."


Story Source:

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


Cite This Page:

University of Exeter. "Killer whales and the mystery of human menopause." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 July 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100701103405.htm>.
University of Exeter. (2010, July 2). Killer whales and the mystery of human menopause. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100701103405.htm
University of Exeter. "Killer whales and the mystery of human menopause." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100701103405.htm (accessed December 22, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Monday, December 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Christmas Kissing Good for Health

Christmas Kissing Good for Health

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Dec. 22, 2014) Scientists in Amsterdam say couples transfer tens of millions of microbes when they kiss, encouraging healthy exposure to bacteria. Suzannah Butcher reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Brain-Dwelling Tapeworm Reveals Genetic Secrets

Brain-Dwelling Tapeworm Reveals Genetic Secrets

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Dec. 22, 2014) Cambridge scientists have unravelled the genetic code of a rare tapeworm that lived inside a patient's brain for at least four year. Researchers hope it will present new opportunities to diagnose and treat this invasive parasite. Matthew Stock reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Earthworms Provide Cancer-Fighting Bacteria

Earthworms Provide Cancer-Fighting Bacteria

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Dec. 21, 2014) Polish scientists isolate bacteria from earthworm intestines which they say may be used in antibiotics and cancer treatments. Suzannah Butcher reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Existing Chemical Compounds Could Revive Failing Antibiotics, Says Danish Scientist

Existing Chemical Compounds Could Revive Failing Antibiotics, Says Danish Scientist

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Dec. 21, 2014) A team of scientists led by Danish chemist Jorn Christensen says they have isolated two chemical compounds within an existing antipsychotic medication that could be used to help a range of failing antibiotics work against killer bacterial infections, such as Tuberculosis. Jim Drury went to meet him. Video provided by Reuters
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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

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