loading page

Telomere dynamics in the first year of life, but not later in life, predict lifespan in a wild bird
  • +7
  • Elizabeth Sheldon,
  • Justin Eastwood,
  • Niki Teunissen,
  • Michael Roast,
  • Marie Fan,
  • Michelle Hall,
  • Nataly Hidalgo Aranzamendi,
  • Sjouke Kingma,
  • Simon Verhulst,
  • Anne Peters
Elizabeth Sheldon
University of South Florida

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

Author Profile
Justin Eastwood
Monash University
Author Profile
Niki Teunissen
Monash University
Author Profile
Michael Roast
Monash University
Author Profile
Marie Fan
Monash University
Author Profile
Michelle Hall
University of Melbourne
Author Profile
Nataly Hidalgo Aranzamendi
Monash University
Author Profile
Sjouke Kingma
Max-Planck-Institute for Ornithology
Author Profile
Simon Verhulst
University of Groningen
Author Profile
Anne Peters
Monash University
Author Profile


Telomeres are protective, nucleoprotein structures at the end of chromosomes that have been associated with lifespan across taxa. However, the extent to which these associations can be attributed to absolute length versus the rate of telomere shortening prior to sampling remains unresolved. In a longitudinal study, we examined the relationship between lifespan, telomere length and the rate of telomere shortening in wild, purple-crowned fairy-wrens (Malurus coronatus coronatus). To this end, we measured telomere length using qPCR in the blood of 59 individuals sampled as nestling and 4-14 months thereafter, and in 150 individuals sampled on average three times across adulthood. We applied within-subject centering analyses to simultaneously test for associations between lifespan and average telomere length and telomere shortening. We reveal that the rate of telomere shortening in the first year of life predicted lifespan, with individuals with faster shortening rates living less long. We also report a trend for an effect of telomere length in the first year of life on lifespan, independent of telomere shortening. In contrast, in adulthood neither telomere shortening, nor telomere length predicted lifespan, despite a considerably larger data set. Our results suggest that telomere length measured very early in life (during development) and longitudinal assessments of telomere shortening during the first year of life constitute more useful biomarkers of total life expectancy than either telomere length measured after development, or telomere shortening later in adulthood.
02 May 2021Submitted to Molecular Ecology
03 May 2021Submission Checks Completed
03 May 2021Assigned to Editor
22 May 2021Reviewer(s) Assigned
02 Aug 2021Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending
24 Aug 2021Editorial Decision: Revise Minor
15 Oct 2021Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending
15 Oct 20211st Revision Received
09 Nov 2021Editorial Decision: Accept
Dec 2022Published in Molecular Ecology volume 31 issue 23 on pages 6008-6017. 10.1111/mec.16296