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Phenotypic variation in nestlings of a bird of prey under contrasting breeding and diet conditions

AuthorsSternalski, Audrey ; Mougeot, François ; Bretagnolle, Vincent
KeywordsBody condition
Marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
Phytohaemagglutinin challenge (PHA)
Environmental variability
Carotenoid-based coloration
Issue Date2012
PublisherLinnean Society of London
John Wiley & Sons
CitationBiological Journal of the Linnean Society 107(4): 799-812 (2012)
AbstractEnvironmental conditions often vary in space and time, and this may explain variation in the expression of phenotypic traits related to individual quality, such as ornamental coloration. Furthermore, the direction and strength of the relationship between coloured trait expression and individual quality might vary under contrasting conditions. These issues have been explored in adult birds but much less so in nestlings, which are more likely to experience different selective pressures and different physiological trade-offs than adults. Here, we empirically investigated the effects of contrasting breeding and diet conditions on the expression of carotenoid-based colour traits displayed by marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus) nestlings. We studied the variation in coloration, body condition, and immune responsiveness of nestlings in four populations over a 5-year period. We characterized spatiotemporal differences in rearing conditions experienced by C. aeruginosus nestlings in terms of breeding (laying date, clutch size, and number of nestlings hatched and fledged) and diet (percentage of mammal in diet and prey diversity) conditions. We found that breeding conditions influenced the co-variation between coloration and immune responsiveness in female nestlings, and that diet conditions influenced the condition-dependence of nestling coloration in later-hatched nestlings. In addition, breeding conditions influenced nestling body condition and immune responsiveness, whereas diet conditions influenced nestling coloration and body condition. Our study highlights that nestling phenotype (levels of signalling, circulating carotenoids, and immunity) varies both spatially and temporally, and that some of this variation is related to differences in breeding and diet conditions. Moreover, under contrasting conditions, the direction of the relationships between nestling carotenoid-based coloration and nestling quality may also vary. In order to fully understand the evolution and maintenance of colour traits in nestling birds, studies and experiments should ideally be replicated under contrasting rearing conditions.
Identifiersdoi: 10.1111/j.1095-8312.2012.01981.x
issn: 0024-4066
e-issn: 1095-8312
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