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Telomeres and anthropogenic disturbances in wildlife: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Cite this dataset

Salmón, Pablo; Burraco, Pablo (2022). Telomeres and anthropogenic disturbances in wildlife: a systematic review and meta-analysis [Dataset]. Dryad.


Human-driven environmental changes are affecting wildlife across the globe. These challenges do not influence species or populations to the same extent and therefore, a comprehensive evaluation of organismal health is needed to determine their ultimate impact. Evidence suggests that telomeres (the terminal chromosomal regions) are sensitive to environmental conditions and have been posited as a surrogate for animal health and fitness. Evaluation of their use in an applied ecological context is still scarce. Here, using information from molecular and occupational biomedical studies, we aim to deliver ecologists and evolutionary biologists an accessible synthesis of the links between human disturbances and telomere length. In addition, we perform a systematic review and meta-analysis on studies measuring telomere length in wild/wild-derived animals facing anthropogenic disturbances. Despite the relatively small number of studies to date, our meta-analysis revealed a significant small negative association between disturbances and telomere length (-0.092 [-0.153, -0.030]; n= 28; k=159). Yet, our systematic review suggests that the use of telomeres as a biomarker to understand the anthropogenic impact on wildlife is limited. We propose some research avenues that will help to broadly evaluate their suitability: i) further causal studies on the link between human disturbances and telomeres; ii) investigating the organismal implications, in terms of fitness and performance, of a given telomere length in anthropogenically-disturbed scenarios; iii) better understanding of the underlying mechanisms of telomere dynamics. Future studies in these facets will help to ultimately determine their role as markers of health and fitness in wildlife facing anthropogenic disturbances.


Sytematic review and meta-analysis. See sections: "4.1 | Literature Search, Data extraction and Effect Size calculation" and "4.2 | Meta-analytic technique and Publication Bias" for details on the data collection and analyses.

Usage notes



Basque Government, Award: POS-2020-1-0007

European Commission, Award: 797879-METAGE

Leverhulme Trust, Award: RPG-2017-061