The ecological significance of telomere dynamics: environments, individuals and inheritance
European Research Council Advanced Investigator Award
We still know very little about what telomere loss measurable at the cellular level actually means for organismal level performance, how it is influenced by environmental factors and maternal effects, and how telomere dynamics relate to Darwinian fitness parameters. This experimental programme, using the zebra finch Taeniopygia guttata, tests the idea that the effects of environmental circumstances on senescence rates and lifespan are linked to accelerated telomere loss and can affect more than one generation. The work integrates evolutionary ecology, endocrinology and molecular biology. In so doing, it spans what has been called ‘a vast interdisciplinary canyon’ between molecular biology and organism performance. It will improve our understanding of hitherto unconsidered life history and intergenerational consequences of conditions likely to be induced in animals by the pace of rapid environmental change. The proposed work also has relevance in a number of other contexts, including captive breeding, animal welfare, stress management, biogerontology and the understanding of the developmental origins of disease in adult life.