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Artificial light at night does not affect telomere shortening in a developing free-living songbird
Journal Contribution - Journal Article
Subtitle:artificial light at night and telomere dynamics
Artificial light at night (ALAN) is an increasingly pervasive anthropogenic disturbance factor. ALAN can seriously disrupt physiological systems that follow circadian rhythms, and may be particularly influential early in life, when developmental trajectories are sensitive to stressful conditions. Using great tits (Parus major) as a model species, we experimentally examined how ALAN affects physiological stress in developing nestlings. We used a repeated-measure design to assess effects of ALAN on telomere shortening, body mass, tarsus length and body condition. Telomeres are repetitive nucleotide sequences that protect chromosomes from damage and malfunction. Early-life telomere shortening can be accelerated by environmental stressors, and has been linked to later-life declines in survival and reproduction. We also assayed nitric oxide, as an additional metric of physiological stress, and determined fledging success. Change in body condition between day 8 and 15 differed according to treatment. Nestlings exposed to ALAN displayed a trend towards a decline in condition, whereas control nestlings displayed a trend towards increased condition. This pattern was driven by a greater increase in tarsus length relative to mass in nestlings exposed to ALAN. Nestlings in poorer condition and nestlings that were smaller than their nest mates had shorter telomeres. However, exposure to ALAN was unrelated to telomere shortening, and also had no effect on nitric oxide concentrations or fledging success. Thus, exposure to ALAN may not have led to sufficient stress to induce telomere shortening. Indeed, plasticity in other physiological systems could allow nestlings to maintain telomere length despite moderate stress. Alternatively, the cascade of physiological and behavioral responses associated with light exposure may have no net effect on telomere dynamics.
Journal: Science of the Total Environment
Pages: 266 - 275