Stress in early life reduces life expectancy - and that of partners

Aug 17, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new study from the University of Glasgow, published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, suggests that our expectancy is likely to be strongly affected by how much stress we were exposed to early in our lives. And worse still, the study also shows that early life stress experienced by our mates could also be affecting how long we are likely to live.

The study, conducted by a team led by Professor Pat Monaghan, use a small bird, the zebra finch. The way in which the body responds to stress is essentially the same in all the higher vertebrate including humans and , like humans, also form strong bonds with their mates.

The researchers imitated a by giving half of the in the study a natural dose of stress hormones for a two week period when they were chicks, while the other half were not dosed. After this, all the birds were kept in the same stress-free environment until they became adults. Their greater exposure to stress in made the exposed birds more reactive to stress when they became adults – they reacted much more than the ‘laid-back’ birds who had not been given the stress hormones in early life. While this increased sensitivity might be a good thing for birds who would want to avoid being eaten in an environment full of predators, increased exposure to is known to be bad for health.

The birds were then formed into pairs, allowed to breed and their lifespan was monitored. The results showed that the birds which had been exposed to a period of stress as chicks had much shorter lives once they became adults - but so also did their mates even if the mate was an unexposed bird. The worst case scenario was when two birds that had experienced stress in early life were mated to each other, and males and females were affected in the same way.

The result of the study, were surprising to the scientists. “Other research led us to expect that increased stress exposure in early life would reduce adult lifespan’, said Professor Pat Monaghan, “but we were not expecting such a big effect on breeding partners. Unstressed birds had mortality rates that were four times higher than normal if they were simply given partners that had experienced stress earlier in their lives.”

The research team believes that part of the reason for the partner effect might be that these jittery individuals are not very comforting to be with. According to Professor Monaghan, “The take home message is that the wrong kind of partner can be very bad for your health.”

Explore further: Rare new species of plant: Stachys caroliniana

More information: The paper, ‘For better or worse: reduced adult lifespan following early stress is transmitted to breeding partners” was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and is published in The Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

Provided by University of Glasgow

4.5 /5 (2 votes)

Related Stories

'Nervous' birds take more risks

Oct 26, 2007

Scientists have shown that birds with higher stress levels adopt bolder behaviour than their normally more relaxed peers in stressful situations. A University of Exeter research team studied zebra finches, which had been ...

Stress may explain vocal mimicry in Bowerbirds

May 11, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Spotted Bowerbirds (Ptilonorhynchus maculatus) are best known for their nests, but these birds are also capable of mimicking the vocalizations of many different species of birds. It was be ...

Cooperative behavior is for the birds

Feb 25, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Cooperative behaviors are rare in the animal kingdom and remain a great enigma for evolutionary biologists. A new study by Frederique Dubois, a professor at the University of Montreal Department ...

Animals have personalities, too

Apr 28, 2011

An individual's personality can have a big effect on their life. Some people are outgoing and gregarious while others find novel situations stressful which can be detrimental to their health and wellbeing. Increasingly, scientists ...

Recommended for you

Rare new species of plant: Stachys caroliniana

Nov 21, 2014

The exclusive club of explorers who have discovered a rare new species of life isn't restricted to globetrotters traveling to remote locations like the Amazon rainforests, Madagascar or the woodlands of the ...

Mysterious glowworm found in Peruvian rainforest

Nov 21, 2014

(Phys.org) —Wildlife photographer Jeff Cremer has discovered what appears to be a new type of bioluminescent larvae. He told members of the press recently that he was walking near a camp in the Peruvian ...

The unknown crocodiles

Nov 21, 2014

Just a few years ago, crocodilians – crocodiles, alligators and their less-known relatives – were mostly thought of as slow, lazy, and outright stupid animals. You may have thought something like that ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.