Copyright © 2015, American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Recovery from infection is not always complete, and mild chronic infection may persist. Although the direct costs of such infections are apparently small, the potential for any long-term effects on Darwinian fitness is poorly understood. In a wild population of great reed warblers, we found that low-level chronic malaria infection reduced life span as well as the lifetime number and quality of offspring. These delayed fitness effects of malaria appear to be mediated by telomere degradation, a result supported by controlled infection experiments on birds in captivity. The results of this study imply that chronic infection may be causing a series of small adverse effects that accumulate and eventually impair phenotypic quality and Darwinian fitness.