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Is telomere length associated with mate choice in a songbird with a high rate of extrapair paternity?

Journal article
Authors Arild Johnsen
Angela Pauliny
Jan T. Lifjeld
Donald Blomqvist
Published in PLoS ONE
Volume 12
Issue 8
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Language en
Subject categories Biological Sciences, Evolutionary Biology


Telomere length is related to aging in many eukaryotes and the rate of telomere attrition has been suggested to reflect individual genetic quality. Telomere length could thus have implications for mate choice. We investigated telomere length variation in bluethroat Luscinia svecica families with mixed paternity, including social parents, extra-pair fathers and nestlings, testing whether telomere length is associated with social and/or extra-pair mate choice through assortative mating or selection of mates with relatively long telomeres. In adults, relative telomere length (rTL) did not differ between the sexes, nor between two age categories. In chicks, however, rTL decreased with body mass at sampling (an index of nestling age). We found a positive correlation between the rTL of social mates, suggesting assortative mating with respect to telomere length or a correlative thereof. However, extra-pair males did not differ from social mates in rTL, and accordingly there was also no difference between within- and extra-pair young (i.e. half-siblings) when controlling for the effect of mass. We found no relationships between telomere length, age and fitness-related traits in adults, but an intriguing year-difference in telomere length in both sexes. In conclusion, we found no support for the idea that females choose extra-pair males based on their telomere length, but social mate choice seems to be influenced by rTL, possibly through its co-variation with aspects reflecting individual quality, like early arrival at the breeding grounds.

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