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.
Copyright © 2015, American Association for the Advancement of Science.