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Overall Health Of Mammals Impacted By Social Status, Study Says

First Posted: Mar 12, 2015 02:06 PM EDT

Researchers at Michigan State University have found that social status could potentially help predict longevity in mammals, according to recent findings published in the journal Biology Letters.

For the study, researchers used wild hyenas to show evidence that social and ecological factors can significantly influence animal health.

"High-ranking members in hyena clans reproduce more, they live longer and appear to be in better overall health," co-author Nora Lewin of Michigan State University, said in a news release. "If you want to see the hierarchy of spotted hyenas, throw down some fresh meat near them. It's quickly apparent who's dominant and who's not."

Researchers examined DNA samples, revealing that higher-ranking hyenas had longer telomeres than their subordinates. Previous studies have similarly showed how the length of telomeres that cap DNA strands can help protect chromosomal deterioration from both stress and aging.

Researchers found that longer telomeres were also linked to less stress and slower aging. On the other hand, shorter ones were associated with more stress and faster aging.

"This work shows, for the first time, the effects of social rank on telomere length in wild mammals," Lewin said. "This enhances our understanding of how social and ecological variables may contribute to age-related declines of hyenas, and in organisms in general."

"The fact that there is variation in telomere length when prey abundance is constant means that there are other factors we need to find," Lewin concluded. "We think it's less about genetics and more influenced by the environment, but we just need to keep searching for the right environmental factors."

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