Indexed on: 03 Dec '13Published on: 03 Dec '13Published in: Oecologia
Oxidative stress occurs when the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) by an organism exceeds its capacity to mitigate the damaging effects of the ROS. Consequently, oxidative stress hypotheses of ageing argue that a decline in fecundity and an increase in the likelihood of death with advancing age reported at the organism level are driven by gradual disruption of the oxidative balance at the cellular level. Here, we measured erythrocyte resistance to oxidative stress in the same individuals over several years in two free-living bird species with contrasting life expectancy, the great tit (known maximum life expectancy is 15.4 years) and the Alpine swift (26 years). In both species, we found evidence for senescence in cell resistance to oxidative stress, with patterns of senescence becoming apparent as subjects get older. In the Alpine swift, there was also evidence for positive selection on cell resistance to oxidative stress, the more resistant subjects being longer lived. The present findings of inter-individual selection and intra-individual deterioration in cell oxidative status at old age in free-living animals support a role for oxidative stress in the ageing of wild animals.