Effects of early-life competition and maternal nutrition on telomere lengths in wild meerkats

Cram, D. L., Monaghan, P. , Gillespie, R. and Clutton-Brock, T. (2017) Effects of early-life competition and maternal nutrition on telomere lengths in wild meerkats. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences, 284(1861), 20171383. (doi:10.1098/rspb.2017.1383) (PMID:28855370)

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Abstract

Early-life adversity can affect health, survival and fitness later in life, and recent evidence suggests that telomere attrition may link early conditions with their delayed consequences. Here, we investigate the link between early-life competition and telomere length in wild meerkats. Our results show that, when multiple females breed concurrently, increases in the number of pups in the group are associated with shorter telomeres in pups. Given that pups from different litters compete for access to milk, we tested whether this effect is due to nutritional constraints on maternal milk production, by experimentally supplementing females' diets during gestation and lactation. While control pups facing high competition had shorter telomeres, the negative effects of pup number on telomere lengths were absent when maternal nutrition was experimentally improved. Shortened pup telomeres were associated with reduced survival to adulthood, suggesting that early-life competition for nutrition has detrimental fitness consequences that are reflected in telomere lengths. Dominant females commonly kill pups born to subordinates, thereby reducing competition and increasing growth rates of their own pups. Our work suggests that an additional benefit of infanticide may be that it also reduces telomere shortening caused by competition for resources, with associated benefits for offspring ageing profiles and longevity.

Item Type:Articles
Keywords:Suricata suricatta, early-life adversity, early-life stress, infanticide, meerkats, telomeres.
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Monaghan, Professor Pat and Gillespie, Mr Robert
Authors: Cram, D. L., Monaghan, P., Gillespie, R., and Clutton-Brock, T.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Biodiversity Animal Health and Comparative Medicine
Journal Name:Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences
Publisher:The Royal Society
ISSN:0962-8452
ISSN (Online):1471-2954
First Published:First published in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences 284(1861):20171383
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
545091ECOTELO - The ecological significance of telomere dynamics:environments, individuals and inheritancePatricia MonaghanEuropean Research Council (ERC)20100317/FP7-268926RI BIODIVERSITY ANIMAL HEALTH & COMPMED