Invasive Species Compendium

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Abstract

Telomere erosion varies with sex and age at immune challenge but not with maternal antibodies in pigeons.

Abstract

Conditions experienced early in life have profound impact on adult fitness, and telomere erosion could be a key mechanism in this process. In particular, early exposure to parasites is a frequent phenomenon in young vertebrates, which is associated with several short- and long-term costs such as telomere erosion. However, the timing of exposure to parasites during ontogeny and maternal antibodies can strongly modulate the costs of immunity, and could differentially affect telomere erosion. Here, we compared the effects of an early or late immune challenge on telomere erosion rate in male and female young feral pigeons (Columba livia) having received or not maternal antibodies. More specifically, we tested whether (i) early or late injections of antigens had different effects on nestling telomere erosion rate, (ii) whether this effect was different between male and female nestlings, and (iii) whether maternal antibodies could modulate telomere erosion rate. Our results show an interaction between sex and age at injection. Late-injected nestlings (injected at 14 days of age) had an accelerated erosion rate compared with the early-injected nestlings (injected at 3 days of age), and this effect was higher in females compared with the males. However, we did not find any effect of maternal antibodies on telomere erosion rate. These results suggest that the age at which an immune challenge occurs is important for telomere erosion and that sex-specific approaches are needed to better understand the short-term and long-term costs of parasite exposure in young vertebrates.