U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version



Ecology and Evolution. 2017;7:8999–9005, DOI: 10.1002/ece3.3388.


This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


All living organisms are subject to senescence accompanied by progressive and irreversible physiological changes. The error damage and cross-linking theories suggest that cells and tissues are damaged by an accumulation of cross-linked proteins, slowing down bodily processes and resulting in aging. A major category of these cross-linked proteins are compounds called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). We investigated the relationship between accumulation of the AGE, pentosidine (Ps), and hydroxyproline (HYP) a post-translationally modified amino acid, with age, sex, and breeding status (breeder/ nonbreeder) from skin samples of known age (i.e., banded as fledglings), free-ranging Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus, Lesson 1831). We developed multivariate models and evaluated the predictive capability of our models for determining age and breeding versus nonbreeding birds. We found significant relationships with Ps and HYP concentration and age, and Ps concentration and sex. Based on our two-class model using Ps and HYP as explanatory variables, we were able to accurately determine whether a cormorant was a breeder or nonbreeder in 83.5% of modeled classifications. Our data indicate that Ps and HYP concentrations can be used to determine breeding status of cormorants and potentially age of cormorants although sex-specific models may be necessary. Although the accumulation of Ps explained the greatest amount of variance in breeding status and age, importantly, Ps covaried with HYP and combined improved prediction of these demographics in cormorants. Our data support the error damage and cross-linking theories of aging. Both Ps and HYP increase predictably in cormorants and are predictive of age and breeding status. Given the ubiquity of these biomarkers across taxa, their use in estimating demographic characteristics of animals could provide a powerful tool in animal ecology, conservation, and management.

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