Experimentally increased reproductive effort alters telomere length in the blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus)

J Evol Biol. 2014 Oct;27(10):2258-64. doi: 10.1111/jeb.12479. Epub 2014 Sep 16.


Telomeres have recently been suggested to play important role in ageing and are considered to be a reliable ageing biomarkers. The life history theory predicts that costs of reproduction should be expressed in terms of accelerated senescence, and some empirical studies do confirm such presumption. Thus, a link between reproductive effort and telomere dynamics should be anticipated. Recent studies have indeed demonstrated that reproduction may trigger telomere loss, but actual impact of reproductive effort has not received adequate attention in experimental studies. Here, we experimentally manipulated reproductive effort by increasing the brood size in the wild blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus). We show that parents attending enlarged broods experienced larger yearly telomere decay in comparison to control birds attending unaltered broods. In addition, we demonstrate that the change in telomere length differs between sexes, but this effect was independent from our treatment. To our knowledge, this is the first experimental study in the wild revealing that telomere dynamics may be linked to reproductive effort. Thus, telomere shortening may constitute one of the potential proximate mechanisms mediating the costs of reproduction.

Keywords: biomarker of ageing; blue tit; cost of reproduction; experimental manipulation; reproductive effort; telomeres; wild population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Animals
  • Clutch Size*
  • Female
  • Linear Models
  • Longevity
  • Male
  • Passeriformes / embryology
  • Passeriformes / genetics
  • Passeriformes / physiology*
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Stress, Physiological
  • Telomere / genetics*