Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 156, Issue 2, pp 525–531 | Cite as

Bill size correlates with telomere length in male American Redstarts

  • Frédéric Angelier
  • Carol M. Vleck
  • Rebecca L. Holberton
  • Peter P. Marra
Original Article


Telomere length (TL) has been shown to be a potential predictor of survival in wild vertebrates, and, as a consequence, there is growing interest in understanding the causes of inter-individual variability in TL. In that context, developmental conditions deserve a specific attention because they are thought to be a major driver of telomere shortening. Because poor developmental conditions can accelerate telomere shortening and impair growth (resulting in a small adult size), a positive correlation between TL and body size is expected. However, and surprisingly, the relationship between body size and telomere length has rarely been described in wild vertebrates. Here, we specifically examined this question in hatch-year (HY) and after hatch-year (AHY) male wintering American Redstarts (Setophaga ruticilla). Although tarsus size was not related to TL, we found a significant positive correlation between bill size and TL in HY male Redstarts, therefore supporting the idea that determinants of some components of individual size are also important determinants of TL in young birds. Moreover, this positive relationship between bill size and TL was also found for AHY birds, suggesting that adult TL may be, at least partly, explained by the telomere dynamics that occurred during the developmental phase.


Telomeres Body size Development Setophaga ruticilla 


Die Schnabelgröße korreliert bei männlichen Schnäpperwaldsängern mit der Telomerlänge Es ist gezeigt worden, das die Telomerlänge (TL) ein potenzieller Anzeiger des Überlebens freilebender Wirbeltiere ist, weshalb zunehmendes Interesse besteht, die Ursachen für die individuelle Variabilität der TL zu verstehen. In diesem Zusammenhang gebührt den Bedingungen während der Entwicklung besondere Aufmerksamkeit, weil angenommen wird, dass diese einen Haupteinflussfaktor auf Telomerverkürzung darstellen. Da schlechte Bedingungen während der Entwicklung Telomerverkürzung beschleunigen und das Wachstum beeinträchtigen können (was zu einer geringen Adultgröße führt), ist eine positive Korrelation zwischen TL und Körpergröße zu erwarten. Überraschenderweise ist jedoch die Beziehung zwischen Köpergröße und Telomerlänge bei freilebenden Wirbeltieren bislang kaum beschrieben worden. Hier haben wir diese Frage an männlichen überwinternden Schnäpperwaldsängern (Setophaga ruticilla) untersucht, die entweder einjährig oder mehrjährig waren. Obwohl die Tarsuslänge nicht mit der TL in Beziehung stand, fanden wir eine signifikante positive Korrelation zwischen der Schnabelgröße und TL bei einjährigen männlichen Schnäpperwaldsängern, was die Idee unterstützt, dass Faktoren, die gewisse Aspekte der individuellen Größe bestimmen, bei jungen Vögeln auch wichtig für die Bestimmung der TL sind. Außerdem fanden wir diese positive Beziehung zwischen Schnabelgröße und TL auch für die mehrjährigen Vögel, was darauf hindeutet, dass die adulte TL zumindest teilweise mit der Telomerdynamik, die während der Entwicklungsphase auftrat, erklärt werden kann.



This study was supported by NSF Grants to PPM (0717338, 0649679) and RLH (0717338). F.A. was supported by the 7th research programme of the European Community FP7/2007-2013 (Marie-Curie Fellowship, 237034). We are very grateful to J. Serb from Iowa State University for her help in the optimization of the primers and to N. Valenzuela for her help with the use of the qPCR equipment. We thank E. Corliss, J.L. Dowling, J.H. Junda, S.R. Sult, M.A. Thomas and C.M. Tonra for their assistance in the field and C. Foote, M. Shultz, and D. Vleck for their help in the laboratory. We thank the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica for permission to conduct this research at the Font Hill Nature Preserve and Yvette Strong and Andrea Donaldson of the Jamaica National Environmental Planning Agency for their cooperation.


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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frédéric Angelier
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Carol M. Vleck
    • 3
  • Rebecca L. Holberton
    • 4
  • Peter P. Marra
    • 2
  1. 1.Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de ChizéCNRSVilliers en BoisFrance
  2. 2.Migratory Bird Center, Smithsonian Conservation Biology InstituteNational Zoological ParkWashingtonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal BiologyIowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  4. 4.Laboratory of Avian Biology, School of Biology and EcologyUniversity of MaineOronoUSA

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