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Loons Show Signs of Aging

Mike Baird via https://flic.kr/p/JAwGP

A researcher working in the Northwoods has found evidence that loons age.  Scientists haven’t been able to demonstrate this until now because of how long loons live. 

Chapman University’s Walter Piper has been studying loon behavior for the past twenty two years, through research in Oneida County called the Loon Project.

Piper looked at the survival rate of older loons, and found that once they reach a certain age, loons are more likely to die.    He says that’s evidence of the physical deterioration, or senescence, that comes with age. 

“We presume that it is a variety of factors that cause loons to die. They become more susceptible to disease perhaps with age. It could be that it’s the accumulation of small illnesses or injuries that make them vulnerable.”

This finding might not seem surprising to us humans who are well acquainted with age…but it’s never been proven to happen in loons, even though Piper says they’re one of the best studied birds in the world. 

“You would think that with all that study going on, this would be an aspect of their survival and natural history that we would know something about. And yet this is the first evidence that anyone’s had of senescence.”

Part of the challenge has been maintaining long enough study of birds whose lifespan can reach up to 30 years. 

Piper says noting this pattern will inform future questions and predictions about loon behavior.  

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