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Early stress is contagious in adulthood

A zebra finch’s tough childhood shortens both its life and its mate’s

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6:50pm, August 16, 2011

Among the regrettable things one might catch from a long-term mating partner, add the life-shortening effects of stress in childhood.

Chickhood stress is bad for zebra finches. Nestlings dosed with stress hormones tend to die earlier in adulthood even if they enjoy plentiful food in predator-free lab quarters after maturity.

And so do those unfortunate nestlings’ mates, a new study finds. Zebra finches, which form strong pair bonds, somehow manage to transmit their own risks of stress-shortened life span to their partners.

“It’s like giving them a disease,” says evolutionary ecologist Pat Monaghan of the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

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