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Specific carotenoid pigments in the diet and a bit of oxidative stress in the recipe for producing red carotenoid-based signals

AuthorsGarcía-de Blas, Esther ; Mateo, Rafael ; Alonso-Álvarez, Carlos
Carotenoid transformation
Handicap theory
Carotenoid supplementation
Avian coloration
Oxidative stress
Color signaling
Sexual selection
Sexual signaling
Issue Date2016
CitationPeerJ 4: e2237 (2016)
AbstractColorful ornaments have been the focus of sexual selection studies since the work of Darwin. Yellow to red coloration is often produced by carotenoid pigments. Different hypotheses have been formulated to explain the evolution of these traits as signals of individual quality. Many of these hypotheses involve the existence of a signal production cost. The carotenoids necessary for signaling can only be obtained from food. In this line, carotenoid-based signals could reveal an individual's capacity to find sufficient dietary pigments. However, the ingested carotenoids are often yellow and became transformed by the organism to produce pigments of more intense color (red ketocarotenoids). Biotransformation should involve oxidation reactions, although the exact mechanism is poorly known. We tested the hypothesis that carotenoid biotransformation could be costly because a certain level of oxidative stress is required to correctly perform the conversion. The carotenoid-based signals could thus reveal the efficiency of the owner in successfully managing this challenge. In a bird with ketocarotenoid-based ornaments (the red-legged partridge Alectoris rufa), the availability of different carotenoids in the diet (i.e. astaxanthin, zeaxanthin and lutein) and oxidative stress were manipulated. The carotenoid composition was analyzed and quantified in the ornaments, blood, liver and fat. A number of oxidative stress biomarkers were also measured in the same tissues. First, we found that color and pigment levels in the ornaments depended on food levels of those carotenoids used as substrates in biotransformation. Second, we found that birds exposed to mild levels of a free radical generator (diquat) developed redder bills and deposited higher amounts of ketocarotenoids (astaxanthin) in ornaments. Moreover, the same diquat-exposed birds also showed a weaker resistance to hemolysis when their erythrocytes were exposed to free radicals, with females also enduring higher oxidative damage in plasma lipids. Thus, higher color production would be linked to higher oxidative stress, supporting the biotransformation hypothesis. The recent discovery of an avian oxygenase enzyme involved in converting yellow to red carotenoids may support our results. Nonetheless, the effect could also depend on the abundance of specific substrate carotenoids in the diet. Birds fed with proportionally higher levels of zeaxanthin showed the reddest ornaments with the highest astaxanthin concentrations. Moreover, these birds tended to show the strongest diquat-mediated effect. Therefore, in the evolution of carotenoid-based sexual signals, a biotransformation cost derived from maintaining a well-adjusted redox machinery could coexist with a cost linked to carotenoid acquisition and allocation (i.e. a resource allocation trade-off).
Publisher version (URL)https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.2237
Identifiersdoi: 10.7717/peerj.2237
e-issn: 2167-8359
Appears in Collections:(IREC) Artículos
(MNCN) Artículos
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