Use of cognitive abilities to care for grandkids may have driven evolution of menopause

July 20, 2017, Public Library of Science
Inter-generational transmission, a driver for human evolution? Credit: debowscyfoto, pixabay

Instead of having more children, a grandmother may pass on her genes more successfully by using her cognitive abilities to directly or indirectly aid her existing children and grandchildren. Such an advantage could have driven the evolution of menopause in humans, according to new research published in PLOS Computational Biology.

Women go through long before the end of their expected lifespan. Researchers have long hypothesized that menopause and long post-reproductive lifespan provide an evolutionary advantage; that is, they increase the chances of a woman passing on her genes. However, the precise nature of this advantage is still up for debate.

To investigate the of menopause, Carla Aimé and colleagues at the Institute of Evolutionary Sciences of Montpellier developed computer simulations of human populations using artificial neural networks. Then they tested which conditions were required for menopause to emerge in the simulated populations.

Specifically, the research team used the simulations to model the emergence and evolution of decision-making in the context of reproduction. Menopause can be considered a resource allocation strategy in which reproduction is halted so that resources can be reallocated elsewhere.

The researchers found that emergence of menopause and long post-reproductive lifespan in the simulated populations required the existence of cognitive abilities in combination with caring for grandchildren. The importance of rather than physical strength lends support to a previously proposed hypothesis for the evolution of menopause known as the Embodied Capital Model.

"Cognitive abilities allow accumulation of skills and experience over the lifespan, thus providing an advantage for resource acquisition," Aimé says. "Stopping reproduction during aging allows allocating more of these surplus resources to assist offspring and grand-offspring, thus increasing children's fertility and grandchildren's survival."

Explore further: Solving the evolutionary puzzle of menopause

More information: Aimé C, André J-B, Raymond M (2017) Grandmothering and cognitive resources are required for the emergence of menopause and extensive post-reproductive lifespan. PLoS Comput Biol 13(7): e1005631. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005631

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TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Jul 23, 2017
It can be said that older women are the true carriers of culture. Like the dominant females in a herd, they determine who mates with whom and when.

They determine reproductive mores based on density and growth vs available resources. They are the ones who modulate nature vs nurture because they fully understand that while males seek to reproduce without limit, it is females who want to choose the best possible mate for each and every child they wish to bear.

They're less concerned with the health of families and more concerned with the health of the tribe.

And in order to destroy obsolete religionist cultures in designer wars, the people who wage these wars understand that it is necessary to target older women, or the culture will always recover.

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