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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 556:251-259 (2016)  -  DOI:

Telomere length and environmental conditions predict stress levels but not parental investment in a long-lived seabird

Rebecca C. Young1,4,*, Chris P. Barger1,5, Ine Dorresteijn2,6, Mark F. Haussmann3, Alexander S. Kitaysky

1University of Alaska Fairbanks, Institute of Arctic Biology; Department of Biology and Wildlife, Fairbanks, AK 99775, USA
2University of Alaska Fairbanks, Institute of Arctic Biology, Fairbanks, AK 99775, USA
3Dept. of Biology, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA 17837, USA
4Present address: 3447 Valley Branch Road, Nashville, IN 47448, USA
5Present address: Alaska Department of Fish & Game, 1300 College Road, Fairbanks, AK 99701, USA
6Present address: Leuphana University Lüneburg, Faculty of Sustainability, Scharnhorststr. 1, C11.018, 21335 Lüneburg, Germany
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Telomeres are increasingly regarded as viable biomarkers of individual quality, and thus may be associated with other proximate markers of quality. We compared telomere length to such quality markers in a long-lived seabird, the thick-billed murre Uria lomvia, breeding under varying environmental conditions on 3 colonies in the Bering Sea. Individual quality was assessed using behaviors associated with parental investment (trip rate and nest attendance, determined by bird-borne data loggers), body condition, and physiological stress (baseline corticosterone). Telomere length was related to physiological stress and body condition, while parental investment in reproduction was not. This implies that maintenance of consistent levels of parental care was prioritized and that individual quality changes were expressed physiologically (changes in telomere length) rather than behaviorally. Under poor environmental conditions, short telomeres were associated with lower levels of physiological stress. However, under good environmental conditions, they were associated with higher levels of stress. These findings confirm that telomere length variation is related to patterns in stress hormones and support previous findings that environmental conditions are an important mediator of telomere dynamics.

KEY WORDS: Individual quality · Brünnich’s guillemot · Corticosterone · Parental investment · Temperature-depth recorder · Telomeres · Thick-billed murre · Uria lomvia

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Cite this article as: Young RC, Barger CP, Dorresteijn I, Haussmann MF, Kitaysky AS (2016) Telomere length and environmental conditions predict stress levels but not parental investment in a long-lived seabird. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 556:251-259.

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