Given the potential role of telomeres as biomarkers of individual health and ageing, there is an increasing interest in studying telomere dynamics in a wider range of taxa in the fields of ecology and evolutionary biology. Measuring telomere length across the lifespan in wild animal systems is essential for testing these hypotheses, and may be aided by archived blood samples collected as part of longitudinal field studies. However, sample collection, storage, and DNA extraction methods may influence telomere length measurement, and it may, therefore, be difficult to balance consistency in sampling protocol with making the most of available samples. We used two complementary approaches to examine the impacts of sample storage method on measurements of relative telomere length (RTL) by qPCR, particularly focusing on FTA (Flinders Technology Associates) cards as a long-term storage solution. We used blood samples from wandering albatrosses collected over 14 years and stored in three different ways (n = 179), and also blood samples from captive zebra finches (n = 30) that were each stored using three different methods. Sample storage method influenced RTL in both studies, and samples on FTA cards had significantly shorter RTL measurements. There was no significant correlation between RTL measured in zebra finch blood on FTA cards and the same samples stored either as frozen whole blood or as extracted DNA. These results highlight the importance of consistency of sampling protocol, particularly in the context of long-term field studies, and suggest that FTA cards should not be used as a long-term storage solution to measure RTL without validation.
Keywords: Ageing; DNA; FTA cards; Long-term field study; Telomeres; Wandering albatross; Zebra finch.