Supplementary methods and results for Karell et al. from Pale and dark morphs of tawny owls show different patterns of telomere dynamics in relation to disease status

Parasites are expected to exert long-term costs on host fecundity and longevity. Understanding the consequences of heritable polymorphic variation in disease defence in wild populations is essential in order to predict evolutionary responses to changes in disease risk. Telomeres have been found to shorten faster in malaria-diseased individuals compared with healthy ones with negative effects on longevity and thereby fitness. Here, we study the impact of haemosporidian blood parasites on telomere dynamics in tawny owls, which display a highly heritable plumage colour polymorphism. Previously, it has been shown that blood parasites have morph-specific impact on body mass maintenance. Here, we show that telomeres shortened faster in individuals with shorter breeding lifespan. Telomere length was negatively associated with the degree of pheomelanic brown coloration and shorter in infected than uninfected individuals. The rate of telomere shortening between breeding seasons was faster in darker pheomelanic individuals and suppression of parasite intensity between seasons was associated with faster telomere shortening in the paler individuals but not in darker ones. We propose that morph-specific physiological profiles cause differential telomere shortening and that this is likely to be a mechanism involved in previously documented environment-driven survival selection against the pheomelanic morph in this population.