A larger body size confers many benefits, such as increased reproductive success, ability to evade predators and increased competitive ability and social status. However, individuals rarely maximise their growth rates, suggesting that this carries costs. One such cost could be faster attrition of the telomeres that cap the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes and play an important role in chromosome protection. A relatively short telomere length is indicative of poor biological state, including poorer tissue and organ performance, reduced potential longevity and increased disease susceptibility. Telomere loss during growth may also be accelerated by environmental factors, but these have rarely been subjected to experimental manipulation in the natural environment. Using a wild system involving experimental manipulations of juvenile Atlantic salmon Salmo salar in Scottish streams, we found that telomere length in juvenile fish was influenced by parental traits and by direct environmental effects. We found that faster-growing fish had shorter telomeres and there was a greater cost (in terms of reduced telomere length) if the growth occurred in a harsher environment. We also found a positive association between offspring telomere length and the growth history of their fathers (but not mothers), represented by the number of years fathers had spent at sea. This suggests that there may be long term consequences of growth conditions and parental life history for individual longevity
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