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Familiar neighbours help decrease ageing

Seychelles-warbler-1-credit-Sjouke-Anne-KingmaWILD BIRDS THAT nest in close proximity to family members or to birds they know well may be physically healthier and may age more slowly, claim scientists.

Researchers from the UK and the Netherlands studied a population of 250 adult Seychelles warblers (Acrocephalus sechellensis) on Cousin Island in the Seychelles over a five-year period. They wanted to test whether territory owners with more related or familiar neighbours had peaceful territories and better health as a result.

The team measured body condition and telomere length, which are sections of DNA that protect an individual’s genetic material, but which erode faster and shorten lifespans during time of stress and poor health.

Lead author Kat Bebbington explained: “Territory owners that are constantly fighting with neighbours are stressed and have little time to do other important things – such as finding food and producing offspring – and their health suffers as a result.”

Findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed territory owners with more relatives or familiar neighbours were in better condition and showed less telomere loss. If new or unrelated neighbours arrived, territory owners lost condition and suffered more telomere shortening.

Ms Bebbington added: "Captive populations are a bit different because often such birds don’t hold a territory, but I would be surprised if the same sort of mechanisms aren’t in action.

“For example, there might be much less conflict over roosting spots or access to food among birds that know each other, regardless of whether they are family or not. Animals never want to fight because it’s risky and costly, so mechanisms that reduce conflict are always important.”

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