Habitat restoration weakens negative environmental effects on telomere dynamics
Habitat quality can have far-reaching effects on organismal fitness, an issue of concern given the current scale of habitat degradation. Many temperate upland streams have reduced nutrient levels due to human activity. Nutrient restoration confers benefits in terms of invertebrate food availability and subsequent fish growth rates. Here we test whether these mitigation measures also affect the rate of cellular ageing of the fish, measured in terms of the telomeres that cap the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes. We equally distributed Atlantic salmon eggs from the same 30 focal families into 10 human-impacted oligotrophic streams in northern Scotland. Nutrient levels in five of the streams were restored by simulating the deposition of a small number of adult Atlantic salmon Salmo salar carcasses at the end of the spawning period, while five reference streams were left as controls. Telomere lengths and expression of the telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT) gene that may act to lengthen telomeres were then measured in the young fish when 15 months old. While TERT expression was unrelated to any of the measured variables, telomere lengths were shorter (for a given fish size) in salmon living at higher densities and in areas with a low availability of the preferred substrate (cobbles and boulders). However, the adverse effects of these habitat features were much reduced in the streams receiving nutrients. These results suggest that adverse environmental pressures are weakened when nutrients are restored, presumably because the resulting increase in food supply reduces levels of both competition and stress.
European Research Council, Award: 322784
European Research Council, Award: 834653