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Social dominance and rainfall predict telomere dynamics in a cooperative arid-zone bird.

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Capilla-Lasheras, Pablo  ORCID logo
Walker, Lindsay A 


In many vertebrate societies dominant individuals breed at substantially higher rates than subordinates, but whether this hastens ageing remains poorly understood. While frequent reproduction may trade off against somatic maintenance, the extraordinary fecundity and longevity of some social insect queens highlight that breeders need not always suffer more rapid somatic deterioration than their nonbreeding subordinates. Here, we used extensive longitudinal assessments of telomere dynamics to investigate the impact of dominance status on within-individual age-related changes in somatic integrity in a wild social bird, the white-browed sparrow-weaver (Plocepasser mahali). Dominant birds, who monopolise reproduction, had neither shorter telomeres nor faster telomere attrition rates over the long-term (1-5 years) than their subordinates. However, over shorter (half-year) time intervals dominants with shorter telomeres showed lower rates of telomere attrition (and evidence suggestive of telomere lengthening), while the same was not true among subordinates. Dominants may therefore invest more heavily in telomere length regulation (and/or somatic maintenance more broadly); a strategy that could mitigate the long-term costs of reproductive effort, leaving their long-term telomere dynamics comparable to those of subordinates. Consistent with the expectation that reproduction entails short-term costs to somatic integrity, telomere attrition rates were most severe for all birds during the breeding seasons of wetter years (rainfall is the key driver of reproductive activity in this arid-zone species). Our findings suggest that, even in vertebrate societies in which dominants monopolise reproduction, dominants may experience long-term somatic integrity trajectories indistinguishable from those of their nonreproductive subordinates.



life-history, reproduction, social dominance, somatic maintenance, telomere dynamics, Animals, Animals, Wild, Reproduction, Social Dominance, Sparrows, Telomere

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Mol Ecol

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