Telomere length is a strong predictor of foraging behavior in a long-lived seabird

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  • Rebecca C. Young
  • Alexander S. Kitaysky
  • Chris P. Barger
  • Ine Dorresteijn
  • Motohiro Ito
  • Yutaka Watanuki

Telomeres are an increasingly studied component of physiological ecology. However, in longlived birds a large telomere loss with chronological age is not the norm. Telomeres are now regarded less as a chronological aging tool and more as an indicator of individual quality, residual lifespan, or biological age. If telomeres indicate biological aging processes, then they should also be associated with other variables that change with age, especially foraging and reproductive behaviors. This study compared telomere length to a suite of foraging parameters in Thick-billed Murres breeding on three colonies in the Bering Sea. Telomere length, environmental conditions at colonies, and sex played pivotal roles in determining foraging habitat selection. Spatial habitat use, foraging efficiency, and prey selection variables all changed with telomere length. The behavioral evidence indicates that despite losing telomeres, birds with short telomere length retain their ability to use the environment efficiently. This indicates that aging birds remain behaviorally flexible, despite paying physiological costs. Changes in spatial use were largely sex-dependent: females and males differed in their use of the environment as telomere lengths declined. Prey selection was related to telomere length and colony; changes in murre trophic level depended on telomere length, but their direction also depended on habitat quality. We found much support for the continued able functioning of birds with shorter telomeres, indicating that physiological aging does not carry only costs. Murres appear to modify their behavior depending on environmental conditions as their physiological reserves decline.

Original languageEnglish
Article number39
Issue number3
Number of pages26
Publication statusPublished - 01.03.2015

Bibliographical note

Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, Funding number: 13J06234

    Research areas

  • Brunnich's guillemot, Data logger, Diving behavior, Foraging ecology, Pribilof islands, Seabird, Telomeres, Temperature-depth recorder, Thick-billed murre, Uria lomvia
  • Ecosystems Research