Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Research on the physiological causes of senescence aim to identify common physiological mechanisms that explain age-related declines in fitness across taxonomic groups. Telomeres are repetitive nucleotide sequences found on the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes. Past research indicates that telomere attrition is strongly correlated with inter-specific rates of aging, though these studies cannot distinguish whether telomere attrition is a cause or consequence of the aging process. We extend previous research on this topic by incorporating recent studies to test the hypothesis that telomeres shorten more slowly with age in slow-aging animals than in fast-aging ones. We assembled all studies that have quantified cross-sectional (i.e. between-individual) telomere rates of change (TROC) over the lifespans of wild animals. This included 22 estimates reflecting absolute TROC (TROCabs, bp/yr, primarily measured using the terminal restriction fragment length method), and 10 estimates reflecting relative TROC (TROCrel, relative telomere length/yr, measured using qPCR), from five classes (Aves, Mammalia, Bivalvia, Reptilia, and Actinopterygii). In 14 bird species, we correlated between-individual (i.e. cross-sectional) TROCabs estimates with both maximum lifespan and a phylogenetically-corrected principle component axis (pcPC1) that reflected the slow-fast axis of life-history variation. Bird species characterized by faster life-histories and shorter maximum lifespans had faster TROCabs. In nine studies, both between-individual and within-individual TROC estimates were available (n=8 for TROCabs, n=1 for TROCrel). Within-individual TROC estimates were generally greater than between-individual TROC estimates, which is indicative of selective disappearance of individuals with shorter telomeres. However, the difference between within- and between-individual TROC estimates was only significant in two out of nine studies. The relationship between within-individual TROCabs and maximum lifespan did not differ from the relationship of between-individual TROCabs and maximum lifespan. Overall, our results provide additional support for the hypothesis that TROC is correlated with inter-specific rates of aging and complement the intra-specific research that also find relationships between telomere attrition and components of fitness.