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Testing evolutionary theories of menopause

Does the human menopause have an evolutionary explanation? This was the main question answered by new research published this week by a team of academics from LSE, Newcastle University and University College London.

The paper, Testing Evolutionary Theories Of Menopause (Proceedings of the Royal Society), looked to evolution to explanation the menopause.

It asked whether the menopause protects mothers from rising age-specific maternal mortality risks, protecting their dependent younger children from death if the mother dies, or whether it provided post-reproductive grandmothers who help to care and provide for their daughters children?

The team of researchers Daryl Shanley, Newcastle University; Rebecca Sear|, LSE; Ruth Mace, UCL; and Tom Kirkwood, Newcastle University, based the study on a dataset from a population in The Gambia.

The paper presents a mathematical model suggesting that menopause may be an adaptive trait that allows grandmothers to care for their grandchildren, rather than continuing to have children of their own.

The results point clearly towards the maternal grandmother having a key role in the evolution of the menopause.

Rebecca Sear, lecturer in population studies| at LSE said: 'Menopause is a puzzle, since it stops women having children just half-way through their potential lifespan. This research provides support for the "grandmother hypothesis" for the evolution of menopause, which suggests that the importance of grandmaternal care of children led to the evolution of such an early cessation of reproduction.'

Ends

Click here for a PDF copy of the paper, Testing Evolutionary Theories of Menopause.|

Contact:

Rebecca Sear, on 020 7955 7348 or email r.sear@lse.ac.uk|

Esther Avery, LSE Press Office, on 020 7955 7066 or email e.avery@lse.ac.uk|

19 September 2007

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