Telomeres are nucleoproteins that confer stability to eukaryotic genome, but shorten at each cell division, impairing bodily functions. The rate of telomere shortening can vary according to extrinsic factors. We found that nestling barn swallows in experimentally enlarged broods had shorter telomeres, implying social effects on telomere dynamics. However, nestlings displaying darker plumage retained longer telomeres. Because barn swallows preferentially feed darker nestlings, our study shows that parents privilege offspring with larger phenotypic quality.
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