Heterogeneity in individual quality can be a major obstacle when interpreting age-specific variation in life-history traits. Heterogeneity is likely to lead to within-generation selection, and patterns observed at the population level may result from the combination of hidden patterns specific to subpopulations. Population-level patterns are not relevant to hypotheses concerning the evolution of age-specific reproductive strategies if they differ from patterns at the individual level. We addressed the influence of age and a variable used as a surrogate of quality (yearly reproductive state) on survival and breeding probability in the kittiwake. We found evidence of an effect of age and quality on both demographic parameters. Patterns observed in breeders are consistent with the selection hypothesis, which predicts age-related increases in survival and traits positively correlated with survival. Our results also reveal unexpected age effects specific to subgroups: the influence of age on survival and future breeding probability is not the same in nonbreeders and breeders. These patterns are observed in higher-quality breeding habitats, where the influence of extrinsic factors on breeding state is the weakest. Moreover, there is slight evidence of an influence of sex on breeding probability (not on survival), but the same overall pattern is observed in both sexes. Our results support the hypothesis that age-related variation in demographic parameters observed at the population level is partly shaped by heterogeneity among individuals. They also suggest processes specific to subpopulations. Recent theoreticaI developments lay emphasis on integration of sources of heterogeneity in optimization models to account for apparently 'sub-optimal' empirical patterns. Incorporation of sources of heterogeneity is also the key to investigation of age-related reproductive strategies in heterogeneous populations. Thwarting 'heterogeneity's ruses' has become a major challenge: for detecting and understanding natural processes, and a constructive confrontation between empirical and theoretical studies.
Additional publication details
Stratification based on reproductive state reveals contrasting patterns of age-related variation in demographic parameters in the kittiwake