Telomeres as age markers in vertebrate molecular ecology

Glenn Dunshea, Deborah Duffield, Nick Gales, Mark Hindell, Randall S. Wells, Simon N. Jarman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


Chronological age is a fundamental and yet elusive variable in studies of many wild animals. Telomeres are nucleoprotein structures on the ends of chromosomes that change size throughout the life of many animals and because of this property have been advocated as a means to estimate age. In this review, we assess the existing and potential application of using telomeres for age estimation. We argue that there are conceptual and statistical inconsistencies in previous studies and that the basis for telomere change over time is not well understood and affected by several intrinsic and extrinsic process unrelated to chronological time. Furthermore, these processes are likely to vary spatially and temporally for animal populations. We conclude that the current data suggest telomeres should not be used for age estimation. If telomere-based age estimation is to be used, more work in understanding variability in key processes affecting telomere dynamics and rigorous substantiation via blind testing is needed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-235
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular Ecology Resources
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2011
Externally publishedYes


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