Growing up and growing old: telomere dynamics across life history stages
The deterioration in survival probability and reproductive performance that occurs in old age in many species, generally referred to as ageing or senescence, is particularly fascinating, since these changes have negative effects on fitness. Understanding the evolution of senescence therefore poses a particular challenge. However, since most research on ageing is undertaken from the standpoint of ameliorating its effects in humans, there is much that we do not know about intra- and inter-specific variation in the process, pattern and pace of senescence in natural populations. What we are doing in this project, by a combination of correlational and experimental studies, is to examine the links amongst conditions during early life, stress levels, telomere dynamics and longevity in a wild vertebrate, the European shag Phalacrocorax artistotelis. This is a joint study with NERC's Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and utilises their outstanding long term data from the Isle of May in which the life histories of known individuals are tracked across their lifetimes.