Originally posted by Metal Brain
Why do many species have a limited life span that vary from species to species?
Its a large topic that probably cannot be done full justice here. But ultimately it comes down to the most efficient way to reproduce in the niche that an organism is in.
1. It is essential that an organism reaches reproductive age, or assist in the reproduction of siblings or close relatives.
2. How long it lives after first reproductive age depends on many factors to do with the advantages / disadvantages of longevity.
With humans, life is dangerous and in the past life expectancy was in the 30 - 50 range. This meant that most people died from fighting, disease, hunger, accident, rather than old age. There was no evolutionary requirement or advantage to maintain health beyond 50 and so any genes that would benefit old age were not being selected for.
In general DNA copying is not perfect, so older individuals have more mutations than younger ones. There is significant advantage to reproducing as young as possible. So there is an evolutionary trend towards reproduce as young as reasonable, produce enough offspring to replace the population (including considering death rates) and that's it.
This is different when there is reduced cost to having offspring such as is the case for many plants or animals that do not care for their offspring. There are also differences between species that compete for resources within the species vs those that mostly do not.
In summary, its complicated.