Foster rather than biological parental telomere length predicts offspring survival and telomere length in king penguins

Vincent A. Viblanc* (Corresponding Author), Quentin Schull, Antoine Stier, Laureline Durand, Emilie Lefol, Jean-Patrice Robin, Sandrine Zahn, Pierre Bize, François Criscuolo* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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13 Citations (Scopus)
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Because telomere length and dynamics relate to individual growth, reproductive investment and survival, telomeres have emerged as possible markers of individual quality. Here, we tested the hypothesis that, in species with parental care, parental telomere length can be a marker of parental quality that predicts offspring phenotype and survival. In king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus), we experimentally swapped the single egg of 66 breeding pairs just after egg laying to disentangle the contribution of prelaying parental quality (e.g., genetics, investment in the egg) and/or postlaying parental quality (e.g., incubation, postnatal feeding rate) on offspring growth, telomere length and survival. Parental quality was estimated through the joint effects of biological and foster parent telomere length on offspring traits, both soon after hatching (day 10) and at the end of the prewinter growth period (day 105). We expected that offspring traits would be mostly related to the telomere lengths (i.e., quality) of biological parents at day 10 and to the telomere lengths of foster parents at day 105. Results show that chick survival up to 10 days was negatively related to biological fathers’ telomere length, whereas survival up to 105 days was positively related to foster fathers’ telomere lengths. Chick growth was not related to either biological or foster parents’ telomere length. Chick telomere length was positively related to foster mothers’ telomere length at both 10 and 105 days. Overall, our study shows that, in a species with biparental care, parents’ telomere length is foremost a proxy of postlaying parental care quality, supporting the “telomere – parental quality hypothesis.”

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3155-3167
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number16
Early online date20 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

We are grateful to the field assistants who helped us with data collection in 2012-2013. This research was supported by the French Polar Research Institute (IPEV; program 119 ECONERGY), by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), by an International Emerging Action Grant (IEA n°203036) from the CNRS, and by the AXA Research Fund (post-doctoral fellowship to VA Viblanc). We are grateful to S Rogers and 5 anonymous reviewers for constructive and useful comments on previous drafts of the paper.

The data associated with this manuscript are available online at figshare doi: 10.6084/m9.figshare.12249902 (Viblanc et al. 2020).


  • telomere
  • growth
  • gene and early life environmental effects
  • reproduction investment
  • penguins
  • AGE
  • LIFE


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