Empirical evidence of senescence in adult damselflies (Odonata: Zygoptera)

1. Age-dependent increases in mortality have been documented in a variety of species of insect under laboratory conditions. However, while strong statistical evidence has been presented for senescence in vertebrate populations in the wild, we know little about the rate and shape of senescence in wild populations of insects.

2. Odonates (damselflies and dragonflies) provide excellent candidate species for evaluating demographic senescence as they are large enough to be marked individually and they are easily re-sighted without recapture. The prevailing opinion – based entirely on qualitative examination of the declines in log numbers alive with time since marking – is that odonates exhibit age-independent daily survivorship.

3. Here, we examine mark–recapture data on the Azure Damselfly Coenagrion puella over two consecutive seasons. For the first time, we evaluate and compare the fit of quantitative models that not only account for weather-dependent daily variation in daily re-sighting rates, but also age-dependent variation in daily survivorship.

4. Models with age-dependent declines in daily survivorship provide a more parsimonious explanation for the data than similar models without these age-dependent effects. In general, models in which mortality increases in an exponential (Gompertz) fashion explain the mark–recapture sequences more efficiently than a range of alternative models, including those in which mortality increases as a power function (Weibull) or reaches a plateau (logistic). These results are indicative of a general senescent decline in physiological functioning, which is particularly marked after 15 days as a mature adult.

5. Weather (temperature, sun and precipitation) and initial mite load influenced the probability of daily re-sighting. Weather and mite load also influenced daily survivorship, but their effects differed between seasons.

6. Overall, fitting models with age as an explicit covariate demonstrates that odonates do indeed senesce. This contradicts previously held assumptions that Odonata do not exhibit age-dependent survivorship in the wild.