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Title: Early-life effects on telomere dynamics in European badgers (Meles meles)
Author: van Lieshout, Henricus Johannes
ISNI:       0000 0004 8508 9883
Awarding Body: University of Leeds
Current Institution: University of Leeds
Date of Award: 2019
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Despite extensive evidence of senescence, the decline in performance with age, in wild populations, the drivers of individual variation in senescence patterns are still unresolved. In this thesis, I study how early-life environmental, genetic and transgenerational effects contribute to individual variation in senescence patterns, using telomere dynamics, in a wild population of European badgers (Meles meles). I discovered that telomere length forms a complex relationship with age, with both decreases and increases in telomere length that cannot be fully explained by measurement error. Telomere length was not sex-specific, but early-life telomere length predicts survival to adulthood (>1 year old) and lifespan. Within-individual changes in telomere length could be due to age-related changes in leukocyte cell composition in response to social conditions. While variation in (early-life) telomere length was associated with the abundance and variation in food availability, and natal but not adult social conditions, I found no evidence for heritability of telomere length or transgenerational effects, through parental age at conception effects. Additionally, individuals experiencing matching early- and later-life conditions had longer lifespans, even though there was only moderate autocorrelation in environmental quality, but this also depended on the mean environmental quality across adulthood. I also developed a novel approach to the analysis of long-term studies, termed slicing, which overcomes problems with confounding effects and cross-classified data structures. My research shows that individual variation in telomere length and senescence is a consequence of early-life environmental, not genetic or transgenerational, effects in European badgers. In addition, I show the potential for adaptive responses in anticipation of the adult environment and the importance of studying both the mean of and variability in early-life conditions to fully understand the selective pressures on senescence.
Supervisor: Dugdale, H. L. ; Bretman, A. J. ; Hamer, K. C. Sponsor: Leeds Anniversary Research Scholarship ; Genetics Society ; Priestley Centre ; NERC
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available