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Telomeres are elongated in older individuals in a hibernating rodent, the edible dormouse (Glis glis)

Franz Hoelzl, Steve Smith, Jessica S. Cornils, Denise Aydinonat, Claudia Bieber & Thomas Ruf

Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 36856 (2016)

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Molecular ecology Senescence

Received: 26 February 2016 Accepted: 14 October 2016 Published online: 24 November 2016



Telomere shortening is thought to be an important biomarker for life history traits such as lifespan and aging, and can be indicative of genome integrity, survival probability and the risk of cancer development. In humans and other animals, telomeres almost always shorten with age, with more rapid telomere attrition in short-lived species. Here, we show that in the edible dormouse (Glis glis) telomere length significantly increases from an age of 6 to an age of 9 years. While this finding could be due to higher survival of individuals with longer telomeres, we also found, using longitudinal measurements, a positive effect of age on the rate of telomere elongation within older individuals. To our knowledge, no previous study has reported such an effect of age on telomere lengthening. We attribute this exceptional pattern to the peculiar life-history of this species, which skips reproduction in years with low food availability. Further, we show that this “sit tight” strategy in the timing of reproduction is associated with an increasing likelihood for an individual to reproduce as it ages. As reproduction could facilitate telomere attrition, this life-history strategy may have led to the evolution of increased somatic maintenance and telomere elongation with increasing age.


This study was financially supported by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF Grant no. P25023) and the state governments of Lower Austria and Vienna. We are grateful to Österreichische Bundesforste AG for their permission to access the study site and their general support for the project. We also thank Karin Lebl and Klaus Kürbisch for their help with collecting data on the reproductive state of free-living dormice, Boglárka Bálint for the assistance in the laboratory and Renate Hengsberger for her help with the literature search and formatting of the manuscript.

Author information


Department of Integrative Biology and Evolution, University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, Austria

Franz Hoelzl, Steve Smith, Jessica S. Cornils, Denise Aydinonat, Claudia Bieber & Thomas Ruf


F.H. and T.R. designed the study, analysed the data, wrote the manuscript and produced the figures. F.H. and J.C. carried out the field work and extracted the DNA. F.H., D.A. and S.S. carried out the laboratory work and processed the raw data. C.B. provided data. All authors commented on drafts of the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Franz Hoelzl.

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