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Title: Intrinsic and extrinsic factors interact during development to influence telomere length in a long‐lived reptile

The mechanisms connecting environmental conditions to plasticity in biological aging trajectories are fundamental to understanding individual variation in functional traits and life history. Recent findings suggest that telomere biology is especially dynamic during early life stages and has long‐term consequences for subsequent reproduction and survival. However, our current understanding is mostly derived from studies investigating ecological and anthropogenic factors separately, leaving the effects of complex environmental interactions unresolved. American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) are long‐lived apex predators that rely on incubation temperature during a discrete period during development and endocrine cues to determine sex, making them especially vulnerable to current climatic variability and exposure to anthropogenic contaminants interfering with hormone function. Here, we combine field studies with a factorial design to understand how the developmental environment, along with intrinsic biological variation contribute to persistent telomere variation. We found that exposure to a common endocrine disrupting contaminant, DDE, affects telomere length, but that the directionality is highly dependent upon incubation temperature. Variation in hatchling growth, underlies a strong clutch effect. We also assess concentrations of a panel of glucocorticoid hormones and find that contaminant exposure elicits an increase in circulating glucocorticoids. Consistent with emerging evidence linking stress and aging trajectories, GC levels also appear to trend with shorter telomere length. Thus, we add support for a mechanistic link between contaminants and glucocorticoid signalling, which interacts with ecological aspects of the developmental environment to alter telomere dynamics.

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Date Published:
Journal Name:
Molecular Ecology
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 6114-6127
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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