Shorter telomeres precede population extinction in wild lizards

Identifying the early warning signals of catastrophic extinctions has recently become a central focus for ecologists, but species' functional responses to environmental changes remain an untapped source for the sharpening of such warning signals. Telomere length (TL) analysis represents a promising molecular tool with which to raise the alarm regarding early population decline, since telomere attrition is associated with aging processes and accelerates after a recurrent exposure to environmental stressors. In the southern margin of their range, populations of the common lizard (Zootoca vivipara) recently became extinct at lowest elevations due to changes in climate conditions. However, the proximal signals involved in these demographic declines are still unknown. Here, we sampled 100 yearling lizards from 10 natural populations (n = 10 per population) along an extinction risk gradient. Relative lizard abundance dramatically dropped over 12 years in low-altitude populations characterized by warmer ambient temperatures and higher body growth of lizards early in life. A non-linear relationship was found between TL and population extinction risk, with shorter telomeres in populations facing high risk of extinction when compared to non-threatened ones. Our results identify TL as a promising biomarker and imply that population extinctions might be preceded by a loop of physiological aging.

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Dupoue Andreaz, Rutschmann Alexis, Le Galliard Jean Francois, Clobert Jean, Angelier Frederic, Marciau Coline, Ruault Stephanie, Miles Donald, Meylan Sandrine (2017). Shorter telomeres precede population extinction in wild lizards. Scientific Reports. 7. 16976 (8p.).,

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