Heritability and Parental Effects in Telomere Length in a Color Polymorphic Long-Lived Bird

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Abstract

Relative telomere length (RTL), an indicator of senescence, has been shown to be heritable but can also be affected by environmental factors, such as parental effects. Investigating heritability as well as parental effects and rearing environment can help us to understand the factors affecting offspring telomeres. Moreover, how phenotypic parental traits linked with fitness can impact offspring RTL is still unclear. A phenotypic marker closely associated with physiological traits and fitness is melanin-based color polymorphism, which in tawny owl (Strix aluco) is highly heritable and strongly associated with adult telomere shortening and survival. We studied narrow-sense heritability (h2) of RTL, as well as the impact of parental age and color morph and their interaction on offspring RTL. Offspring RTL at fledging was strongly positively correlated with both mother RTL and father RTL at breeding. Offspring RTL was also negatively associated with father age, suggesting that older fathers sired offspring with shorter telomeres. Parental color morph did not explain offspring RTL, and there were no interactive effects of parental morph and age, despite previously documented morph-specific senescence patterns. Our results suggest that RTL is highly heritable and affected by paternal age but not related to color polymorphism. This suggests that either morph-specific telomere shortening as an adult does not result in significantly shorter telomeres in their gametes, or that parents compensate morph-specific senescence via parental care. Morph-specific patterns of telomere dynamics in polymorphic species may thus emerge from different life history strategies adopted in adulthood.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)351-364
Number of pages14
JournalPhysiological and Biochemical Zoology
Volume95
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Jul

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Evolutionary Biology

Free keywords

  • cellular senescence
  • inheritance
  • Lansing effect
  • melanism
  • parental age
  • parental effort
  • quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR)
  • transgenerational effects

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