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Harsh conditions during early development influence telomere length in an altricial passerine: Links with oxidative stress and corticosteroids

AuthorsGil, Diego ; Alfonso‐Iñiguez, Sergio; Pérez-Rodríguez, Lorenzo ; Muriel, Jaime ; Monclús, Raquel
Issue Date2019
PublisherJohn Wiley & Sons
CitationJournal of Evolutionary Biology 32(1): 111-125 (2019)
AbstractStress during early development can induce substantial long‐term effects in organisms. In the case of birds, despite growth compensations, nestlings reared under harsh conditions typically show reduced survival chances in adulthood. It has been proposed that environmental early‐life stressors could affect longevity via effects on telomere length, possibly mediated through oxidative stress. However, the link between these processes is not clear. In this study, we experimentally manipulated brood size in spotless starlings (Sturnus unicolor ) to test the causal relationship between early stress, oxidative and corticosterone‐mediated stress and telomere shortening. Our results show that experimentally enlarged brood sizes led to a reduction in morphometric development on nestlings, the effect being stronger for females than males. Additionally, basal corticosterone levels increased with increasing brood size in female nestlings. Neither plasma antioxidant status nor malondialdehyde levels (a marker of lipid peroxidation) were affected by experimental brood size, although the levels of a key intracellular antioxidant (glutathione) decreased with increasing brood size. We found that the treatment showed a quadratic effect on nestling telomere lengths: these were shortened either by increases or by decreases in the original brood size. Our study provides experimental evidence for a link between developmental stress and telomere length, but does not support a direct causal link of this reduction with corticosterone or oxidative stress. We suggest that future studies should focus on how telomere length responds to additional markers of allostatic load.
Publisher version (URL)https://doi.org/10.1111/jeb.13396
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