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A new study on how Cape ground squirrels live in the wild is revealing the effects of social stress on ageing. The research has potential to help understand ageing mechanisms in humans as well.
In many animal species, group living can bring various benefits such as reduced predation risk, as well as many threats such as increased disease transmission. Little research has been conducted regarding the stress-related costs of group living on health and life, especially in the wild.
SOCIAL - COST - Project - Effects - Stress
The EU-funded SOCIAL COST project studied the behavioural, physiological and molecular effects of social stress in natural conditions. "Social stress can cause physiological stress in group living animals, including humans, leading to poor health or fitness reduction," says project coordinator Dr Shirley Raveh. "This is important as many effects of group living are still poorly understood, especially in natural populations," she underlines.
Working at the Kalahari Research Centre in South Africa, the project team examined how group size and composition, reproduction and individual social status might affect the level of social stress. It looked at how social stress can affect telomeres, the protective tips at the end of chromosomes which prevent the erosion that can take place during cell division. "Telomere dynamics and oxidative damage are linked to the occurrence of stressors and to fitness," Dr Raveh explains.
Project - Team - Links - Status - Group
The project team particularly studied direct links between social status, group size, sex and ecological stressors of free-living Cape ground squirrels (Xerus inauris) at the Kalahari Research Centre. It also looked at the associated physiological factors such as oxidative damage and hormone levels, as well as molecular effects.
Unsurprisingly, the preliminary...
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