Badgers provide a clue as to why males age faster
The University of Exeter research showed that male badgers that spend their youth fighting tend to age more quickly than their passive counterparts.
Male badgers living alongside a high density of other males also grow older more quickly than those living with lower densities of males.
"The study shows that when male badgers don't have to fight for a mate, they can prioritise their health and wellbeing and as a result they age more slowly. However, when badgers fight a lot in their youth, they really pay for it by ageing rapidly in later life," said author Christopher Beirne from the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter's Penryn Campus in Cornwall.
The results, which are published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, indicate that competition between males in early life accelerates ageing in later life, providing a potential explanation for why males age faster than females.
Unlike the males, female badgers appeared to be unaffected by the density of other females in the area, indicating that they don't suffer from the effects of competition in the same way as males.
"The findings are particularly interesting because males age faster than females in many species, including our own, but we don't really understand why," said co-author Dr Andrew Young.