Male houbara bustards use a great deal of energy displaying themselves to potential mates. Researchers found the most ostentatious males actually age faster and have a shorter phase of the prime reproductive years. The biggest flirts produce the best quality sperm, but they also burn themselves out quicker. Once they have past their prime, their sperm was found to have higher numbers of dead and abnormal candidates.
So you might be wondering if there is any connection between the flirty birds and human lives. One of the researchers said, “This is the bird equivalent of the posers who strut their stuff in bars and nightclubs every weekend. If the bustard is anything to go by, these same guys will be reaching for their toupees sooner than they’d like,” said lead author Dr Brian Preston. (Source: Eurekaalert.org)
There are many theories of aging, and it isn’t currently understood exactly how to extend life further than what seems to be intended by nature. One possibility has arisen from the study of telomeres, the ends of chromosomes that are shortened and decreased in number with every cell cycle. Telomeres protect the ends of chromosomes from damage and from fusing with other ones.
The Nobel Prize in Medicine for 2009 was awarded for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and an enzyme called telomerase. It has been speculated based on that research and similar studies, there may be lifestyle choices that can prevent or reduce damage to telomeres, and that might increase telomerase. The number of times a cell population will divide is limited, and therefore will stop, resulting in death. Each division shortens the telomeres. It might turn out that the evolutionary strategy to attract a high number of potential mates, and perhaps even be mostly promiscuous, not only burns up much energy, it might also increase stress levels and do damage at a cellular level. Perhaps a follow-up study could examine the telomere counts and lengths in the same flirty male birds.
Image Credit: D. Gordon E. Robertson