Ectoparasite presence and brood size manipulation interact to accelerate telomere shortening in nestling jackdaws

Elisa P Badás*, Christina Bauch, Jelle J Boonekamp, Ellis Mulder, Simon Verhulst*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Early-life conditions impact fitness, but whether the combined effect of extrinsic stressors is additive or synergistic is not well known. This is a major knowledge gap because exposure to multiple stressors is frequent. Telomere dynamics may be instrumental when testing how stressors interact because many factors affect telomere shortening, and telomere shortening predicts survival. We evaluated the effect of manipulated brood size and natural infestation by the carnid fly Carnus hemapterus on nestling growth and telomere shortening of wild jackdaws (Corvus monedula). Telomere length, measured in blood using TRF, shortened on average by 264 bp, and on average, Carnus infection induced more telomere shortening. Further analyses showed that in enlarged broods, nestlings' telomeres shortened more when parasitized, while in reduced broods there was no effect of infection on telomere shortening. We conclude that there is a synergistic effect of number of siblings and Carnus infection on telomere shortening rate: blood-sucking parasites may negatively impact telomeres by increasing cell proliferation and/or physiological stress, and coping with infection may be less successful in enlarged broods with increased sibling competition. Larger nestlings had shorter telomeres independent of age, brood manipulation or infection. Growth was independent of infestation but in enlarged broods, nestlings were lighter at fledging. Our findings indicate that (i) evaluating consequences of early-life environmental conditions in isolation may not yield a full picture due to synergistic effects, and (ii) effects of environmental conditions may be cryptic, for example, on telomeres, with fitness consequences expressed beyond the temporal framework of the study.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to) 6913-6923
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number24
Early online date21-Oct-2023
Publication statusPublished - Dec-2023


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