Sex differences in telomere selection in the wild

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Telomere length is restored primarily through the action of the reverse transcriptase telomerase, which may contribute to a prolonged lifespan in some but not all species and may result in longer telomeres in one sex than the other. To what extent this is an effect of proximate mechanisms (e.g. higher stress in males, higher oestradiol/oestrogen levels in females), or is an evolved adaptation (stronger selection for telomere length in one sex), usually remains unknown. Sand lizard (Lacerta agilis) females have longer telomeres than males and better maintain telomere length through life than males do. We also show that telomere length more strongly contributes to life span and lifetime reproductive success in females than males and that telomere length is under sexually diversifying selection in the wild. Finally, we performed a selection analysis with number of recruited offspring into the adult population as a response variable with telomere length, life span and body size as predictor variables. This showed significant differences in selection pressures between the sexes with strong ongoing selection in females, with these three predictors explaining 63% of the variation in recruitment. Thus, the sexually dimorphic telomere dynamics with longer telomeres in females is a result of past and ongoing selection in sand lizards. Finally, we compared the results from our selection analyses based on Telometric-derived data to the results based on data generated by the software ImageJ. ImageJ resulted in shorter average telomere length, but this difference had virtually no qualitative effect on the patterns of ongoing selection.


  • Mats Olsson
  • Angela Pauliny
  • Erik Wapstra
  • Tobias Uller
  • Tonia Schwartz
  • Donald Blomqvist
External organisations
  • University of Oxford
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Biological Sciences
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2085-2099
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes