Early-life effects on telomere dynamicsin European badgers (Meles meles)

Sil H J van Lieshout, Hannah Dugdale



Despite extensive evidence of senescence, the decline in performance with age, in wild populations, the drivers ofindividual variation in senescence patternsare still unresolved. In this thesis,I study how early-life environmental, genetic and transgenerational effects contribute to individual variation in senescence patterns, using telomere dynamics,ina wild population ofEuropean badgers (Meles meles).I discovered that telomere length forms a complex relationship with age,withboth decreases and increases in telomere length that cannot be fully explained by measurement error. Telomere length was not sex-specific, but early-life telomere length predicts survival to adulthood (>1 year old) and lifespan. Within-individual changes in telomere length could be due to age-related changesin leukocyte cell composition in response to social conditions. While variation in (early-life)telomere length was associatedwith the abundance and variation in food availability, andnatal but not adultsocial conditions, I found no evidence for heritability of telomere length or transgenerationaleffects, through parental age at conceptioneffects. Additionally, individuals experiencingmatching early-and later-life conditions had longer lifespans,even though there was only moderate autocorrelation in environmental quality, but this also depended on the mean environmental qualityacross adulthood. Ialsodeveloped a novel approach to the analysis of long-term studies, termed slicing, which overcomes problems with confounding effects and cross-classified data structures.My research shows that individual variation in telomere length and senescence is a consequence of early-life environmental, not genetic or transgenerational, effects in European badgers. In addition, I show the potential for adaptive responses in anticipation of the adult environment and the importance ofstudying both the mean of and variability in early-life conditions to fully understand the selective pressures on senescence.
Originele taal-2English
Toekennende instantie
  • School of Biology, The Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK.
  • Dugdale, Hannah, Supervisor
StatusPublished - 2020

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