Telomere dynamics in parasitic great spotted cuckoos and their magpie hosts

J Evol Biol. 2015 Sep;28(9):1610-7. doi: 10.1111/jeb.12680. Epub 2015 Jul 14.


Although little is known on the impact of environment on telomere length dynamics, it has been suggested to be affected by stress, lifestyle and/or life-history strategies of animals. We here compared telomere dynamics in erythrocytes of hatchlings and fledglings of the brood parasite great spotted cuckoos (Clamator glandarius) and of magpies (Pica pica), their main host in Europe. In magpie chicks, telomere length decreased from hatching to fledging, whereas no significant change in telomere length of great spotted cuckoo chicks was found. Moreover, we found interspecific differences in the association between laying date and telomere shortening. Interspecific differences in telomere shortening were interpreted as a consequence of differences in lifestyle and life-history characteristics of magpies and great spotted cuckoos. In comparison with magpies, cuckoos experience reduced sibling competition and higher access to resources and, consequently, lower stressful environmental conditions during the nestling phase. These characteristics also explain the associations between telomere attrition and environmental conditions (i.e. laying date) for magpies and the absence of association for great spotted cuckoos. These results therefore fit expectations on telomere dynamics derived from interspecific differences in lifestyle and life history of brood parasites and their bird hosts.

Keywords: brood parasitism; cell division; incubation period; life history; nestling growth; oxidative damage; telomerase activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Host-Parasite Interactions / genetics
  • Passeriformes / parasitology*
  • Species Specificity
  • Telomere Homeostasis
  • Telomere Shortening*
  • Time Factors

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.6NR62