Telomere length and telomere shortening are thought to be critical cellular attributes and processes that are related to an individual's life span and fitness. The general pattern across most taxa is that after birth telomere length gradually decreases with age. Telomere protection and restoration mechanisms are usually assumed to reduce the rate of shortening or at most keep telomere length constant. However, here we have compiled a list of 26 articles showing that there is an increasing number of studies reporting apparent elongation of telomeres (i.e., a net increase in TL from time t to time t+1 ) often in a considerable proportion of the individuals studied. Moreover, the few studies which have studied telomere elongation in detail show that increases in telomere length are unlikely to be due to measurement error alone. In this article, we argue that episodes of telomere elongation deserve more attention as they could reflect individual strategies to optimise life histories and maximise fitness, which may not be reflected in the overall telomere dynamics patterns. We propose that patterns of telomere (net) elongation may be partly determined by other factors than those causing telomere shortening, and therefore deserve analyses specifically targeted to investigate the occurrence of telomere elongation. We elaborate on two ecological hypotheses that have been proposed to explain patterns of telomere elongation (the 'excess resources elongation' and the 'last resort elongation' hypothesis) and we discuss the current evidence for (or against) these hypotheses and propose ways to test them.
Bibliographical note© 2023 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Subject classification (UKÄ)
- Evolutionary Biology