The untapped potential of reptile biodiversity for understanding how and why animals age
1.The field of comparative aging biology has greatly expanded in the past 20 years. Longitudinal studies of populations of reptiles with a range of maximum lifespans have accumulated and been analyzed for evidence of mortality senescence and reproductive decline. While not as well represented in studies of amniote senescence, reptiles have been the subjects of many recent demographic and mechanistic studies of the biology of aging.
2. We review recent literature on reptile demographic senescence, mechanisms of senescence, and identify unanswered questions. Given the ecophysiological and demographic diversity of reptiles, what is the expected range of reptile senescence rates? Are known mechanisms of aging in reptiles consistent with canonical hallmarks of aging in model systems? What are the knowledge gaps in our understanding of reptile aging?
3. We find ample evidence of increasing mortality with advancing age in many reptiles. Testudines stand out as slower aging than other orders, but data on crocodilians and tuatara are sparse. Sex‐specific analyses are generally not available. Studies of female reproduction suggest that reptiles are less likely to have reproductive decline with advancing age than mammals.
4. Reptiles share many physiological and molecular pathways of aging with mammals, birds, and laboratory model organisms. Adaptations related to stress physiology coupled with reptilian ectothermy suggest novel comparisons and contrasts that can be made with canonical aging phenotypes in mammals. These include stem cell and regeneration biology, homeostatic mechanisms, IIS/TOR signaling, and DNA repair.
5. To overcome challenges to the study of reptile aging, we recommend extending and expanding long‐term monitoring of reptile populations, developing reptile cell lines to aid cellular biology, conducting more comparative studies of reptile morphology and physiology sampled along relevant life‐history axes, and sequencing more reptile genomes for comparative genomics. Given the diversity of reptile life histories and adaptations, achieving these directives will likely greatly benefit all aging biology.