Chronic infection. Hidden costs of infection: chronic malaria accelerates telomere degradation and senescence in wild birds

Science. 2015 Jan 23;347(6220):436-8. doi: 10.1126/science.1261121.


Recovery from infection is not always complete, and mild chronic infection may persist. Although the direct costs of such infections are apparently small, the potential for any long-term effects on Darwinian fitness is poorly understood. In a wild population of great reed warblers, we found that low-level chronic malaria infection reduced life span as well as the lifetime number and quality of offspring. These delayed fitness effects of malaria appear to be mediated by telomere degradation, a result supported by controlled infection experiments on birds in captivity. The results of this study imply that chronic infection may be causing a series of small adverse effects that accumulate and eventually impair phenotypic quality and Darwinian fitness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Breeding
  • Genetic Fitness*
  • Malaria / genetics
  • Malaria / physiopathology
  • Malaria / veterinary*
  • Malaria, Avian / genetics*
  • Malaria, Avian / physiopathology*
  • Plasmodium
  • Songbirds / genetics
  • Songbirds / parasitology*
  • Songbirds / physiology
  • Telomere Homeostasis / genetics*

Supplementary concepts

  • Acute malaria