When it comes to evolutionary influences on longevity, the evidence supports the idea that species with a high mortality rate due to external causes (e.g. being eaten) will tend to be short-lived. There is no evolutionary pressure to develop the biological mechanisms that will lead to longer reproductive lives if near all individuals are killed comparatively early in life. This study is a novel way to add further supporting evidence to this point of view:
Evolutionary hypotheses for ageing generally predict that delayed senescence should evolve in organisms that experience lower extrinsic mortality. Thus, one might expect species that are highly toxic or venomous (i.e. chemically protected) will have longer lifespans than related species that are not likewise protected. This remarkable relationship has been suggested to occur in amphibians and snakes.
First, we show that chemical protection is highly conserved in several lineages of amphibians and snakes. Therefore, accounting for phylogenetic autocorrelation is critical when conservatively testing evolutionary hypotheses because species may possess similar longevities and defensive attributes simply through shared ancestry. Herein, we compare maximum longevity of chemically protected and nonprotected species, controlling for potential nonindependence of traits among species using recently available phylogenies.
Our analyses confirm that longevity is positively correlated with body size in both groups which is consistent with life-history theory. We also show that maximum lifespan was positively associated with chemical protection in amphibian species but not in snakes. Chemical protection is defensive in amphibians, but primarily offensive (involved in prey capture) in snakes. Thus, we find that although chemical defence in amphibians favours long life, there is no evidence that chemical offence in snakes does the same.