Telomere length reveals cumulative individual and transgenerational inbreeding effects in a passerine bird

Kathryn Bebbington, Lewis Spurgin, Eleanor Fairfield, Hannah L Dugdale, Jan Komdeur, Terry Burke, David S. Richardson (Lead Author)

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39 Citations (Scopus)
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Inbreeding results in more homozygous offspring that should suffer reduced fitness, but it can be difficult to quantify these costs for several reasons. First, inbreeding depression may vary with ecological or physiological stress and only be detectable over long time periods. Second, parental homozygosity may indirectly affect offspring fitness, thus confounding analyses that consider offspring homozygosity alone. Finally, measurement of inbreeding coefficients, survival and reproductive success may often be too crude to detect inbreeding costs in wild populations. Telomere length provides a more precise measure of somatic costs, predicts survival in many species and should reflect differences in somatic condition that result from varying ability to cope with environmental stressors. We studied relative telomere length in a wild population of Seychelles warblers (Acrocephalus sechellensis) to assess the lifelongrelationship between individual homozygosity, which reflects genome-wide inbreeding in this species, and telomere length. In juveniles, individual homozygosity was negatively associated with telomere length in poor seasons. In adults, individual homozygosity was consistently negatively related to telomere length, suggesting the accumulation of inbreeding depression during life. Maternal homozygosity also negatively predicted offspring telomere length. Our results show that somatic inbreeding costs are environmentally dependent at certain life stages but may accumulate throughout life.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2949–2960
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number12
Early online date17 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016


  • heterozygote advantage
  • Seychelles warbler
  • inbreeding
  • transgenerational effects
  • telomeres
  • fitness

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