Reproductive output is one of the central attributes of life history, and knowledge of age-specific reproduction can enhance the understanding of population performance and dynamics. Tardigrades are microscopic invertebrates that live in marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems. While changes in fertility in relation to age are known to occur in other invertebrate groups, the subject has not been specifically addressed in tardigrades. The current study demonstrates for the first time the effect of lifespan and age on reproductive characteristics of the tardigrade species, Acutuncus antarcticus (Richters 1904), based on the observation of individuals over their entire lifespan under constant environment conditions in the laboratory. Clutch size of A. antarcticus fluctuated conspicuously throughout individual lifespans. Weak effects of age were observed on oviposition interval and hatching success, with the former increasing slightly and the latter decreasing slightly with age. Numbers of oviposition events and eggs produced per individual varied greatly and were correlated with lifespan. No significant relationships between clutch size, hatching time or hatching success with lifespan were detected. The majority of the individuals continued oviposition until shortly before death, with no suggestion of a post-reproductive lifespan. Our observations suggest that any decline in fertility with age in this species of tardigrade is minimal. The study provides new insight into the reproductive biology and ageing of invertebrate species.
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