Evolutionary ecology of telomeres: a review
Telomere‐induced selection could take place if telomere‐associated disease risk shortens reproductive life span and differently reduces relative fitness among individuals. Some of these diseases first appear before reproductive senescence and could thus influence ongoing selection. We ask whether we can estimate the components of the breeder's equation for telomeres, in which the response to selection (R, by definition "evolution") is the product of ongoing selection (S) and heritability (h2). However, telomere inheritance is a conundrum: in quantitative genetics, traits can usually be allocated to categories with relatively high or low heritability, depending on their association with relative fitness. Telomere traits, however, show wide variation in heritability from zero to one, across taxa, gender, ethnicity, age, and disease status. In spite of this, there is divergence in telomere length among populations, supporting past and ongoing telomere evolution. Rates of telomere attrition and elongation vary among taxa with some, but not complete, taxonomic coherence. For example, telomerase is commonly referred to as "restricted to the germ line in mammals," but inbred mice and beavers have telomerase upregulation in somatic tissue, as do many ectotherms. These observations provoke a simplistic understanding of telomere evolutionary biology-clearly much is yet to be discovered.