Are you a lover or a fighter? This question, it seems, has profound implications – especially if you’re a badger. A new study has found that male badgers that spend their younger years brawling age quicker compared to those that had a more relaxing early life.
The researchers, from the University of Exeter, found that male badgers that lived in an area with a high density of other males aged faster in later life than those living in areas of lower densities. The scientists suggest that the increase in fighting and competing for females meant that the young badgers had to forfeit their health.
“The study shows that when male badgers don't have to fight for a mate, they can prioritize their health and wellbeing and as a result they age more slowly,” explained Christopher Beirne, who coauthored the paper, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. “However, when badgers fight a lot in their youth, they really pay for it by aging rapidly in later life.”
Two badgers having a rough and tumble. Credit: KOO/Shutterstock.
Using 35 years of data collected at a long-term field site in Gloucestershire in the U.K., where the resident badger population has been continuously monitored since the 1970s, the researchers were able to quantify aging by how much weight the animals lost. Just as humans lose weight and become frailer as they get older, so do badgers. This drop in weight is also likely to indicate reduced reproductive and survival rates.
In contrast to the males, the team found that female badgers were totally unaffected by how many other females were in the area. This reinforces previous studies that have found males are far more likely to contest matings, have bite wounds and die younger.
The precise reasons as to the differences in aging are not fully understood, though these new findings could provide support for male-male competition being a primary cause. The researchers suggest that this might also give an insight into the differences in aging between males and females found in other species.
“The findings are particularly interesting because males age faster than females in many species, including our own, but we don't really understand why,” says Dr Andrew Young, another of the coauthors. “Our findings suggest that male badgers age faster than females because of the male-male competition that they experience during their lifetimes; males that experience strong competition age more quickly than females, while males that experience little competition do not.”