Telomere length vary with sex, hatching rank and year of birth in little owls, Athene noctua

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François Criscuolo, Inès Fache, Bertrand Scaar, Sandrine Zahn, Josefa Bleu 


Telomeres are non-coding DNA sequences located at the end of linear chromosomes, protecting genome integrity. In numerous taxa, telomeres shorten with age and telomere length (TL) is positively correlated with longevity. Moreover, TL is also affected by environmental stressors and/or resource-demanding situations particularly during early-life. Thus, TL has been used as a physiological marker of individual quality and also as an indicator of population trend in conservation physiology. In this study, we investigated the effects of hatching rank, year of birth (2014 to 2017), sex and nest environment on TL of 137 little owls nestlings (Athene noctua). Little owls’ populations in Europe showed a marked declined in the end of the 20th century. Nowadays, in the studied Alsatian population, the population is increasing. In this study, our results indicated that telomeres are longer in females and, independently of sex, in nestlings with the highest body condition. There was also a negative effect of hatching rank but only for last-hatched nestlings in large clutches of 5 nestlings. We did not find any effect of the environmental covariates on nestlings’ TL. Finally, we found that nestlings’ TL were shorter the last year of the study, while nestlings’ body condition stayed unchanged over the same period. This result is intriguing given the local positive population dynamics and is further discussed in the context of physiological conservation. Future studies should investigate the link between reduced TL and survival prospects in this species.



Ecology and Evolutionary Biology


telomere, little owl, hatching rank, early-life effects, sex differences


Published: 2023-03-06 12:51

Last Updated: 2023-12-04 05:18

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