University of Oulu

Pepke, M.L., Niskanen, A.K., Kvalnes, T. et al. Inbreeding is associated with shorter early-life telomere length in a wild passerine. Conserv Genet 23, 639–651 (2022).

Inbreeding is associated with shorter early-life telomere length in a wild passerine

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Author: Pepke, Michael Le1; Niskanen, Alina K.1,2; Kvalnes, Thomas1;
Organizations: 1Centre for Biodiversity Dynamics (CBD), Department of Biology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim, Norway
2Ecology and Genetics Research Unit, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
3Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine (IBAHCM), University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.3 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Springer Nature, 2022
Publish Date: 2022-08-30


Inbreeding can have negative effects on survival and reproduction, which may be of conservation concern in small and isolated populations. However, the physiological mechanisms underlying inbreeding depression are not well-known. The length of telomeres, the DNA sequences protecting chromosome ends, has been associated with health or fitness in several species. We investigated effects of inbreeding on early-life telomere length in two small island populations of wild house sparrows (Passer domesticus) known to be affected by inbreeding depression. Using genomic measures of inbreeding we found that inbred nestling house sparrows (n = 371) have significantly shorter telomeres. Using pedigree-based estimates of inbreeding we found a tendency for inbred nestling house sparrows to have shorter telomeres (n = 1195). This negative effect of inbreeding on telomere length may have been complemented by a heterosis effect resulting in longer telomeres in individuals that were less inbred than the population average. Furthermore, we found some evidence of stronger effects of inbreeding on telomere length in males than females. Thus, telomere length may reveal subtle costs of inbreeding in the wild and demonstrate a route by which inbreeding negatively impacts the physiological state of an organism already at early life-history stages.

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Series: Conservation genetics
ISSN: 1566-0621
ISSN-E: 1572-9737
ISSN-L: 1566-0621
Volume: 23
Issue: 3
Pages: 639 - 651
DOI: 10.1007/s10592-022-01441-x
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 1182 Biochemistry, cell and molecular biology
Funding: This work was funded by the Research Council of Norway (274930 and 302619) and through its Centres of Excellence scheme (223257). Open access funding provided by NTNU Norwegian University of Science and Technology (incl St. Olavs Hospital - Trondheim University Hospital)
Dataset Reference: Availability of data and material Data is available on the Open Science Framework (OSF) doi:
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