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Sun Conure Aratinga solstitialis 7. Senegal Parrot Poicephalus senegalus 8. African Grey Parrot Psittacus erithacus erithacus 9. Orange-Winged site Parrot sitea siteica Blue and Gold Macaw Ara ararauna Goffin Cockatoo Cacatua Licmetis goffini Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo Cacatua galerita Umbrella Cockatoo Cacatua Cacatua alba Moluccan Cockatoo Cacatua moluccensis Pigeon Columba livia Mallard Duck Anas platyrhynchos Red Tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus Details.
Conceived and designed the experiments: DA FS. Performed the experiments: DA FH.
Analyzed the data: DA FK. Received Oct 30; Accepted Mar 7. This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Abstract Telomeres, the caps of eukaryotic chromosomes, control chromosome stability and cellular senescence, but aging and exposure to chronic stress are suspected to cause attrition of telomere length.
We investigated the effect of social isolation on telomere length in the highly social and intelligent African Grey parrot Psittacus erithacus erithacus. Our findings provide the first evidence that social isolation affects telomere length, which supports the hypothesis that telomeres provide a biomarker indicating exposure to chronic stress. Introduction Individual variation in ageing and health are associated with differences in telomere length TL .
Once a critical TL is reached, cells enter replicative senescence and irreversibly lose their potential to divide. Numerous studies have found that short telomeres are associated with increased risk of a variety of age-related diseases in humans  and reduced lifespan in different species  — .
The causes of variation in telomere shortening and repair among individuals are not fully understood, though the leading hypothesis suggests they are due to differences in exposure to chronic stress and lifestyle  ,  , .
Chronic exposure to stressful conditions interferes with anti-oxidative defences, which increase cellular and DNA damage reviewed by  ,  , especially in the telomeric region .
In addition, oxidative telomere erosion has also been proposed to contribute to disrupted telomere repair mechanisms . For example, telomerase, the enzyme responsible for TL elongation, is vulnerable to oxidative stress.
Some studies show diminished activity of telomerase due to chronic stress  , and though other studies found the opposite relationship  ,  , experimental disruption of telomerase expression reduced TL and lifespan in mice and zebrafish  , .
Taken together, increased oxidative damage, and inefficient repair due to negative external lifestyle factors are the leading explanations for accelerated telomere shortening. For example, in humans, it was initially discovered that mothers exposed to higher levels of chronic psychological stress caring for chronically ill children showed higher levels of oxidative stress together with shorter TLs than other mothers .
Subsequent studies in humans have also found exposure to a variety of stressors — including psychological problems e. Furthermore, experimental tests with house mice support the hypothesis that exposure to stressful conditions cause telomere shortening  , . Some studies in birds show that longer telomeres are associated with enhanced survival  ,  and lifetime reproductive success .
Yet, the fitness consequences of TL shortening are still debated because other studies in humans found no effects on mortality  and some show telomere lengthening with chronological age  , . We aimed to test whether and how social isolation affects telomere length in single-housed versus pair-housed captive African Grey parrots Psittacus erithacus erithacus.
Social isolation is a highly stressful situation for social species, and though it may have long-lasting consequences  , most studies have only assessed endocrinological especially corticosteroids and neurochemical effects  , . African Grey parrots are long-lived birds and reach sexual maturity between 4—7 years of age, and in the wild, they roost in large flocks of up to 10, birds and forage in groups of up to 30 individuals . They form life-long monogamous pairs, and they are rarely if ever socially isolated for long periods.
In captivity, however, these parrots are often kept solitary, which can have a variety of detrimental effects. Psychogenic feather damaging behaviour and other self-mutilation, aggression, screaming, neo-phobias and stereotypic behaviour with the absence of medical causes and constantly recurring illnesses are often described in parrots kept in deprived environments  — .
Hand-rearing causes a variety of permanent behavioral disorders in African Grey parrots, which appear to be due to mal-imprinting on human surrogate parents .
Yet, since social development extends beyond the nesting period and includes interactions with other conspecifics, we expect social isolation to cause long-lasting physiological and behavioral disorders, even in parrot-reared birds. Our goals were to test whether 1 TL declines with age, 2 telomere attrition is accelerated in socially isolated birds, and 3 telomere attrition is associated with reduced longevity.
Material and Methods a Ethical statement No Ethics permissions were needed according to the Ethics Commission of the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna because blood samples were not collected for our study they were collected in routine veterinary exams requested by the owners, and all efforts were made to minimize suffering to the animals in these exams. Austrian legislation has not permitted single housing of parrots since , but it is still common to encounter single-housed parrots in veterinary practice.
All individuals were bred in captivity and housing conditions were obtained by interviewing the owners.