Telomere dynamics could underlie life-history trade-offs among growth, size and longevity, but our ability to quantify such processes in natural, unmanipulated populations is limited. We investigated how 4years of artificial selection for either larger or smaller tarsus length, a proxy for body size, affected early-life telomere length (TL) and several components of fitness in two insular populations of wild house sparrows over a study period of 11years. The artificial selection was expected to shift the populations away from their optimal body size and increase the phenotypic variance in body size. Artificial selection for larger individuals caused TL to decrease, but there was little evidence that TL increased when selecting for smaller individuals. There was a negative correlation between nestling TL and tarsus length under both selection regimes. Males had longer telomeres than females and there was a negative effect of harsh weather on TL. We then investigated whether changes in TL might underpin fitness effects due to the deviation from the optimal body size. Mortality analyses indicated disruptive selection on TL because both short and long early-life telomeres tended to be associated with the lowest mortality rates. In addition, there was a tendency for a negative association between TL and annual reproductive success, but only in the population where body size was increased experimentally. Our results suggest that natural selection for optimal body size in the wild may be associated with changes in TL during growth, which is known to be linked to longevity in some bird species.

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