Nav: Home

Getting help with the kids slows down ageing in female birds

March 21, 2019

Seychelles warblers live and breed in family groups on the tiny island of Cousin. In each group, a dominant female and male reproduce. When helpers assist the with incubation and feeding of chicks, the dominant female breeders age more slowly and live longer, a study by biologists from the University of Groningen and colleagues from the Universities of East Anglia, Leeds, Sheffield, and Wageningen shows. The results, which are published in the journal Nature Communications on 21 March, indicate how cooperative breeding - which also occurs in other species, including humans - can increase life span.

The Seychelles warbler lives on Cousin Island in the Indian Ocean, measuring just 500 by 700 meters. Some fifty years ago, only a handful of birds survived. However, conservation efforts have led to a spectacular increase in the population, and new populations have been established by translocating birds to four other islands nearby. 'There are about one hundred breeding territories on Cousin, each with a dominant male and female and a number of subordinates, which are often the offspring of the dominant pair', explains University of Groningen biologist Martijn Hammers, lead author of the study.

Survival

Inside the groups, some - often female - subordinates may help the dominant female with the demanding tasks of incubation and raising chicks. 'Not all dominant females get help', explains Hammers. That is why the Seychelles warbler is well suited to investigate the effect of having helpers on aging in dominant breeders.

Ever since the 1990s, the Seychelles warblers on Cousin Island have been fitted with colored rings, so scientists are able to follow them over time. Hammers and his colleagues used data on survival and breeding success collected over fifteen years. In addition, they measured the shortening of telomeres, which can be used as a marker of condition and aging. Telomeres are repetitive DNA sequences at the end of chromosomes, which shorten in response to stress. Telomere shortening is a sign of biological aging, and in the Seychelles warbler, telomere length predicts survival.

Positive feedback

'Our analysis showed that in dominant females who get help from subordinates, the shortening of the telomeres is slower than in birds who do not get help. Also, for the older dominant females, this help results in much better survival.' Dominant males do not appear to benefit as much from having helpers, probably because they invest much less energy in breeding.

Hammers and his colleagues also discovered a positive feedback system: 'Birds who get more help age more slowly and live longer. But older birds also tend to be more social and recruit more helpers.' The helping subordinates are often daughters of the dominant female. In helping their mother, they raise siblings with whom they share genes.

Humans

The study shows how cooperative breeding could increase an individual's lifespan. 'Of course, the effects we have measured were within one generation, not between generations.' Nevertheless, it supports a long-held hypothesis that cooperative breeding - which also is the norm in humans - can reduce the cost of raising young and may slow down the negative effects of aging. 'It provides an explanation for why more social species tend to have longer lifespans', Hammers concludes.
-end-
Reference: Martijn Hammers, Sjouke A. Kingma, Lewis G. Spurgin, Kat Bebbington, Hannah L. Dugdale, Terry Burke, Jan Komdeur and David S. Richardson: Breeders that receive help age more slowly in a cooperatively breeding bird. Nature Communications, 21 March 2019

University of Groningen

Related Aging Articles:

Brain development and aging
The brain is a complex organ -- a network of nerve cells, or neurons, producing thought, memory, action, and feeling.
Aging gracefully in the rainforest
In an article that appears in the current issue of Evolutionary Anthropology, researchers synthesize over 15 years of theoretical and empirical findings from long-term study of the Tsimane forager-farmers.
Reversing aging now possible!
DGIST's research team identified the mechanism of reversible recovery of aging cells by inducing lysosomal activation.
Brain-aging gene discovered
Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center have discovered a common genetic variant that greatly affects normal brain aging in older adults.
Aging can be good for you (if you're a yeast)
It's a cheering thought for anyone heading towards their golden years.
How eating less can slow the aging process
New research shows why calorie restriction made mice live longer and healthier lives.
Turning back the aging clock
By boosting genes that destroy defective mitochondrial DNA, researchers can slow down and potentially reverse an important part of the aging process.
Insilico Medicine launches a deep learned biomarker of aging, Aging.AI 2.0 for testing
Insilico Medicine, Inc., a company applying latest advances in deep learning to biomarker development, drug discovery and aging research, launched Aging.AI 2.0.
Substance with the potential to postpone aging
The coenzyme NAD+ plays a main role in aging processes.
What does a healthy aging cat look like?
Just as improved diet and medical care have resulted in increased life expectancy in humans, advances in nutrition and veterinary care have increased the life span of pet cats.

Related Aging Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...