Divergent patterns of telomere shortening in tropical compared to temperate stonechats.

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Telomeres have emerged as important biomarkers of health and senescence as they predict chances of survival in various species. Tropical birds live in more benign environments with lower extrinsic mortality and higher juvenile and adult survival than temperate birds. Therefore, telomere biology may play a more important role in tropical compared to temperate birds. We measured mean telomere length of male stonechats (Saxicola spp.) at four age classes from tropical African and temperate European breeding regions. Tropical and temperate stonechats had similarly long telomeres as nestlings. However, while in tropical stonechats pre‐breeding first‐years had longer telomeres than nestlings, in temperate stonechats pre‐breeding first‐years had shorter telomeres than nestlings. During their first breeding season, telomere length was again similar between tropical and temperate stonechats. These patterns may indicate differential survival of high‐quality juveniles in tropical environments. Alternatively, more favorable environmental conditions, that is, extended parental care, may enable tropical juveniles to minimize telomere shortening. As suggested by previous studies, our results imply that variation in life history and life span may be reflected in different patterns of telomere shortening rather than telomere length. Our data provide first evidence that distinct selective pressures in tropical and temperate environments may be reflected in diverging patterns of telomere loss in birds.


Ecology and Evolution





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