Magellanic penguin telomeres do not shorten with age with increased reproductive effort, investment, and basal corticosterone.
Jack A. Cerchiara, Rosa Ana Risques, Donna Prunkard, Jeffrey R. Smith, Olivia J. Kane, P. Dee Boersma
Ecology and Evolution 7(15): 5682-5691. 2017.
All species should invest in systems that enhance longevity; however, a fundamental adult life-history trade-off exists between the metabolic resources allocated to maintenance and those allocated to reproduction. Long-lived species will invest more in reproduction than in somatic maintenance as they age. We investigated this trade-off by analyzing correlations among telomere length, reproductive effort and output, and basal corticosterone in Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus). Telomeres shorten with age in most species studied to date, and may affect adult survival. High basal corticosterone is indicative of stressful conditions. Corticosterone, and stress, has been linked to telomere shortening in other species. Magellanic penguins are a particularly good model organism for this question as they are an unusually long-lived species, exceeding their mass-adjusted predicted lifespan by 26%. Contrary to our hypothesis, we found adults aged 5 years to over 24 years of age had similar telomere lengths. Telomeres of adults did not shorten over a 3-year period, regardless of the age of the individual. Neither telomere length, nor the rate at which the telomeres changed over these 3 years, correlated with breeding frequency or investment. Older females also produced larger volume clutches until approximately 15 years old and larger eggs produced heavier fledglings. Furthermore, reproductive success (chicks fledged/eggs laid) is maintained as females aged. Basal corticosterone, however, was not correlated with telomere length in adults and suggests that low basal corticosterone may play a role in the telomere maintenance we observed. Basal corticosterone also declined during the breeding season and was positively correlated with the age of adult penguins. This higher basal corticosterone in older individuals, and consistent reproductive success, supports the prediction that Magellanic penguins invest more in reproduction as they age. Our results demonstrate that telomere maintenance may be a component of longevity even with increased reproductive effort, investment, and basal corticosterone.