© 2015 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.
Telomeres are regarded as important biomarkers of ageing and serve as useful tools in revealing how stress acts at the cellular level. However, the effects of social and ecological factors on telomere length remain poorly understood, particularly in free-ranging mammals. Here, we investigated the influences of within-group dominance rank and group membership on telomere length in wild adult spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta). We found large effects of both factors; high-ranking hyenas exhibited significantly greater mean telomere length than did subordinate animals, and group membership significantly predicted mean telomere length within high-ranking females. We further inquired whether prey availability mediates the observed effect of group membership on telomere length, but this hypothesis was not supported. Interestingly, adult telomere length was not predicted by age. Our work shows for the first time, to the best of our knowledge, the effects of social rank on telomere length in a wild mammal and enhances our understanding of how social and ecological variables may contribute to organismal senescence.