Inbreeding is associated with shorter early-life telomere length in a wild passerine
Pepke, Michael Le; Niskanen, Alina K.; Kvalnes, Thomas; Boner, Winnie; Sæther, Bernt-Erik; Ringsby, Thor Harald; Jensen, Henrik (2022-04-10)
Pepke, M.L., Niskanen, A.K., Kvalnes, T. et al. Inbreeding is associated with shorter early-life telomere length in a wild passerine. Conserv Genet 23, 639–651 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10592-022-01441-x
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Inbreeding can have negative effects on survival and reproduction, which may be of conservation concern in small and isolated populations. However, the physiological mechanisms underlying inbreeding depression are not well-known. The length of telomeres, the DNA sequences protecting chromosome ends, has been associated with health or fitness in several species. We investigated effects of inbreeding on early-life telomere length in two small island populations of wild house sparrows (Passer domesticus) known to be affected by inbreeding depression. Using genomic measures of inbreeding we found that inbred nestling house sparrows (n = 371) have significantly shorter telomeres. Using pedigree-based estimates of inbreeding we found a tendency for inbred nestling house sparrows to have shorter telomeres (n = 1195). This negative effect of inbreeding on telomere length may have been complemented by a heterosis effect resulting in longer telomeres in individuals that were less inbred than the population average. Furthermore, we found some evidence of stronger effects of inbreeding on telomere length in males than females. Thus, telomere length may reveal subtle costs of inbreeding in the wild and demonstrate a route by which inbreeding negatively impacts the physiological state of an organism already at early life-history stages.
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