When does early-life telomere length predict survival? A case study and meta-analysis

Type Article
Date 2023-06
Language English
Author(s) Eastwood Justin R.1, Dupoue AndreazORCID1, 2, Delhey Kaspar1, 3, Verhulst SimonORCID4, Cockburn Andrew5, Peters AnneORCID1, 6
Affiliation(s) 1 : School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia
2 : CNRS Sorbonne Université, UMR 7618, iEES Paris, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France
3 : Department Behavioural Ecology & Evolutionary Genetics, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Seewiesen, Germany
4 : Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands
5 : Division of Ecology and Evolution, Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
6 : Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Vogelwarte Radolfzell, Radolfzell, Germany
Source Molecular Ecology (0962-1083) (Wiley), 2023-06 , Vol. 32 , N. 11 , P. 3000-3013
DOI 10.1111/mec.16894
WOS© Times Cited 3
Keyword(s) fitness, juvenile, lifespan, longevity, mortality, review, superb fairy-wren, young

Suboptimal conditions during development can shorten telomeres, the protective DNA caps on the end of chromosomes. Shorter early-life telomere length (TL) can indicate reduced somatic maintenance, leading to lower survival and shorter lifespan. However, despite some clear evidence, not all studies show a relationship between early-life TL and survival or lifespan, which may be due to differences in biology or study design (e.g., survival period measured). In superb fairy-wrens (Malurus cyaneus), we assessed whether early-life TL predicts mortality across different life-history stages (fledgling, juvenile, adult). However, in contrast to a similar study on a congener, early-life TL did not predict mortality across any life stage in this species. We then performed a meta-analysis including 32 effect sizes from 23 studies (15 birds and three mammals) to quantify the effect of early-life TL on mortality whilst taking into consideration potential sources of biological and methodological variation. Overall, the effect of early-life TL on mortality was significant, corresponding to a 15% reduction in mortality risk with each standard deviation increase in TL. However, the effect became weaker when correcting for publication bias. Contrary to our predictions, there was no evidence that effects of early-life TL on mortality varied with species lifespan or the period over which survival was measured. However, negative effects of early-life TL on mortality risk were pervasive throughout life. These results imply that effects of early-life TL on mortality are more likely to be context-dependent than age-dependent, although substantial power and publication bias issues highlight the need for more research.

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