Of telomeres and temperature: Measuring thermal effects on telomeres in ectothermic animals
Ectotherms are classic models for understanding life-history tradeoffs, including the reproduction–somatic maintenance tradeoffs that may be reflected in telomere length and their dynamics. Importantly, life-history traits of ectotherms are tightly linked to their thermal environment, with diverse or synergistic mechanistic explanations underpinning the variation. Telomere dynamics potentially provide a mechanistic link that can be used to monitor thermal effects on individuals in response to climatic perturbations. Growth rate, age and developmental stage are all affected by temperature, which interacts with telomere dynamics in complex and intriguing ways. The physiological processes underpinning telomere dynamics can be visualized and understood using thermal performance curves (TPCs). TPCs reflect the evolutionary history and the thermal environment during an individual's ontogeny. Telomere maintenance should be enhanced at or near the thermal performance optimum of a species, population and individual. The thermal sensitivity of telomere dynamics should reflect the interacting TPCs of the processes underlying them. The key processes directly underpinning telomere dynamics are mitochondrial function (reactive oxygen production), antioxidant activity, telomerase activity and telomere endcap protein status. We argue that identifying TPCs for these processes will significantly help design robust, repeatable experiments and field studies of telomere dynamics in ectotherms. Conceptually, TPCs are a valuable framework to predict and interpret taxon- and population-specific telomere dynamics across thermal regimes. The literature of thermal effects on telomeres in ectotherms is sparse and mostly limited to vertebrates, but our conclusions and recommendations are relevant across ectothermic animals.
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University of Wollongong