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Research article2022Peer reviewedOpen access

Large mammal telomere length variation across ecoregions

Fohringer, Christian; Hoelzl, Franz; Allen, Andrew M.; Cayol, Claire; Ericsson, Goran; Spong, Goran; Smith, Steven; Singh, Navinder J.


Background Telomere length provides a physiological proxy for accumulated stress in animals. While there is a growing consensus over how telomere dynamics and their patterns are linked to life history variation and individual experience, knowledge on the impact of exposure to different stressors at a large spatial scale on telomere length is still lacking. How exposure to different stressors at a regional scale interacts with individual differences in life history is also poorly understood. To better understand large-scale regional influences, we investigated telomere length variation in moose (Alces alces) distributed across three ecoregions. We analyzed 153 samples of 106 moose representing moose of both sexes and range of ages to measure relative telomere lengths (RTL) in white blood cells. Results We found that average RTL was significantly shorter in a northern (montane) and southern (sarmatic) ecoregion where moose experience chronic stress related to severe summer and winter temperatures as well as high anthropogenic land-use compared to the boreal region. Our study suggests that animals in the northern boreal forests, with relatively homogenous land use, are less disturbed by environmental and anthropogenic stressors. In contrast, animals in areas experiencing a higher rate of anthropogenic and environmental change experience increased stress. Conclusion Although animals can often adapt to predictable stressors, our data suggest that some environmental conditions, even though predictable and ubiquitous, can generate population level differences of long-term stress. By measuring RTL in moose for the first time, we provide valuable insights towards our current understanding of telomere biology in free-ranging wildlife in human-modified ecosystems.


Alces alces; Biomarker; Chronic stress; Human modification; Life history; Telomere associations

Published in

BMC ecology and evolution
2022, Volume: 22, article number: 105
Publisher: BMC