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The Evolutionary Ecology of Menopause

Arnot, Megan; (2021) The Evolutionary Ecology of Menopause. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

Despite appearing to be maladaptive, the human menopause and prolonged post-reproductive lifespan are thought to have been shaped in our evolutionary history by natural selection. As a result, there has been a great deal of research looking at the inclusive fitness benefits of a post-reproductive lifespan. However, there are still many things we do not know about menopause, such as whether current variation in menopause timing is the result of evolutionary trade-offs, whether menopause symptoms require an evolutionary explanation, and how post-reproductive care functions in a sample of women from the United Kingdom. This thesis focuses on trying to fill these identified gaps in the literature using data from the United Kingdom, United States, and China. I find no evidence for menopause symptoms being facultative, nor that menopause timing varies in the way predicted by current evolutionary models. However, I do find that a later menopause is predicted by an increased likelihood of pregnancy, suggesting an energetic trade-off. Further, I show that menopause symptoms predictably vary relative to one’s ecology, with a more stressful environment predicting worse symptoms. When looking at caring behaviour, I found evidence in favour of it being facultative relative to fecundity status, with pre-menopausal women caring more for their parents, while post-menopausal women spent more time caring for their grandchildren. Finally, I present evidence for an earlier menopause predicting a greater number of grandchildren, suggesting that women are able to offset the costs of being post-reproductive by increasing indirect fitness. Results from this thesis suggest that many aspects of the menopausal transition are plastic, and often vary in a way predicted by evolutionary theory. Through understanding these trends, it may those who experience menopause more autonomy over the transition. Further, my research on fecundity status and caring behaviours demonstrates the behavioural implications of energetic trade-offs.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: The Evolutionary Ecology of Menopause
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2021. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Anthropology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10139915
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