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Carotenoid-based coloration, condition, and immune responsiveness in the nestlings of a sexually dimorphic bird of prey

AuthorsSternalski, Audrey ; Mougeot, François ; Pérez-Rodríguez, Lorenzo ; Bretagnolle, Vincent
Issue Date2012
PublisherUniversity of Chicago Press
CitationPhysiological and Biochemical Zoology 85(4): 364-375 (2012)
AbstractIn many birds, nestlings exhibit brightly colored traits that are pigmented by carotenoids. Carotenoids are diet limited and also serve important health-related physiological functions. The proximate mechanisms behind the expression of these carotenoid- pigmented traits are still poorly known, especially in nestlings with sexual size dimorphism. In these nestlings, intrabrood competition levels and growth strategies likely differ between sexes, and this may in turn influence carotenoid allocation rules. We used dietary carotenoid supplementation to test whether wild marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus) nestlings were carotenoid limited and whether carotenoid allocation strategies varied between sexes, which differ in their size and growth strategies. When supplemented, nestlings used the supplemental carotenoids to increase their coloration independently of their sex. We showed that the condition dependence of the carotenoid level and the response to an immune challenge (phytohemagglutinin test) differed between sexes, possibly because sexual size dimorphism influences growth strategies and/ or intrabrood competition levels and access to different types of food. In this species, which often feeds on mammals, a tradeoff likely exists between food quantity (energy) and quality (carotenoid content). Finally, carotenoid-based coloration expressed in marsh harrier nestlings appeared to be indicative of immune responsiveness rather than condition, therefore potentially advertising to parents nestling quality or value rather than nutritional need.
Publisher version (URL)https://doi.org/10.1086/665981
Identifiersdoi: 10.1086/665981
issn: 1522-2152
e-issn: 1537-5293
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