© 2015. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.
Conditions experienced during development and growth are of crucial importance as they can have a significant influence on the optimisation of life histories. Indeed, the ability of an organism to grow fast and achieve a large body size often confers short- and long-term fitness benefits. However, there is good evidence that organisms do not grow at their maximal rates as growth rates seem to have potential costs on subsequent lifespan. There are several potential proximate causes of such a reduced lifespan. Among them, one emerging hypothesis is that growth impacts adult survival and/or longevity through a shared, end point, ageing mechanism: telomere erosion. In this study, we manipulated brood size in order to investigate whether rapid growth (chicks in reduced broods) is effectively done at the cost of a short- (end of growth) and long-term (at adulthood) increase of oxidative damage and telomere loss. Contrary to what we expected, chicks from the enlarged broods displayed more oxidative damage and had shorter telomeres at the end of the growth period and at adulthood. Our study extends the understanding of the proximate mechanisms involved in the trade-off between growth and ageing. It highlights that adverse environmental conditions during growth can come at a cost via transient increased oxidative stress and pervasive eroded telomeres. Indeed, it suggests that telomeres are not only controlled by intrinsic growth rates per se but also may be under the control of some extrinsic environmental factors, which could complicate our understanding of the growth-ageing interaction.