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How elephants grow old

Objective

The ageing population structure of most European countries has major health, economic and social consequences that lead to a need to better understand both the evolutionary limitations of deferring ageing, as well as the mechanisms involved in growing old. Ageing involves reduced fertility, mobility and ability to combat disease, but some individuals cope with growing old better than others. Improving the quality of life at old age and predicting future changes in longevity patterns of societies might depend on our ability to develop indicators of how old we really are and how many healthy years we have ahead, and how those indicators depend on our health history across several decades. Yet, most model species used in biology are short-lived and provide a poor comparison to long-lived mammals such as humans. Further, they do not often inform on the mechanisms of ageing alongside its fitness consequences in natural populations of long-lived mammals. This project integrates different ageing mechanisms with unique data on lifelong disease and reproductive history in the most long-lived non-human mammal studied so far, the Asian elephant. I will examine how different mechanisms of ageing (telomere dynamics, oxidative stress and telomerase activity) interact with lifelong disease and reproductive history, and current endocrinological measures of stress and reproductive status. This will help us to better understand both the mechanisms of ageing and their consequences on senescence rates. To do so, I will combine the most comprehensive demographic data (N~10.000) on Asian elephants in the world with bi-monthly health assessments and disease records across life (N~2500) and with longitudinal markers of ageing and hormonal correlates of stress and reproductive potential (N~240). Understanding changes in health across life and its links to ageing rates, stress levels and life-history in a species as long-lived as humans will be relevant to a large range of end-users.

Field of science

  • /natural sciences/biological sciences/zoology/mammalogy
  • /social sciences/sociology/demography/fertility
  • /humanities/history and archaeology/history

Call for proposal

ERC-2014-CoG
See other projects for this call

Funding Scheme

ERC-COG - Consolidator Grant

Host institution

TURUN YLIOPISTO
Address
Yliopistonmaki
20014 Turku
Finland
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
EU contribution
€ 1 949 316

Beneficiaries (2)

TURUN YLIOPISTO
Finland
EU contribution
€ 1 949 316
Address
Yliopistonmaki
20014 Turku
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
THE UNIVERSITY OF SHEFFIELD

Participation ended

United Kingdom
EU contribution
€ 0
Address
Firth Court Western Bank
S10 2TN Sheffield
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments