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Carotenoid-based plumage colouration is associated with blood parasite richness and stress protein levels in blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus)

AuthorsCerro Gómez, Sara del CSIC; Merino, Santiago CSIC ORCID ; Martínez de la Puente, Josué CSIC ORCID; Ruiz de Castañeda, Rafael; Rivero de Aguilar, Juan; Martínez, Javier CSIC ORCID; Morales, Judith ; Tomás, Gustavo CSIC ORCID; Moreno Klemming, Juan CSIC ORCID
Health status
Heat shock proteins
Multiple infections
Yellow breast
Issue Date2010
CitationOecologia (2010) 162:825–835
AbstractCarotenoids are molecules that birds are not able to synthesize and therefore, must be acquired through their diet. These pigments, besides their function of giving birds red and yellow colouration when deposited in feath- ers, seem to act as immune-stimulators and antioxidants in the organism. Hence, only the healthiest individuals would be able to express carotenoid-based ornaments to a larger extent without compromising the physiological functions of carotenoids. Various studies have reported that birds infected by parasites are paler than those uninfected, but, to our knowledge, none of them has assessed the possible eVect of multiple infections by blood parasites on plumage colour. By comparing the yellow colour in the breast plumage of blue tits, Cyanistes caeruleus, between birds infected by diVerent numbers of blood parasite genera, we found that those birds infected by more than one genus were paler than those parasitized just by one. In addition, we examined the potential role of carotenoid-based plumage colour of blue tits as a long-term indicator of other parameters of health status, such as body condition and immunoglobulin and heat shock protein (HSP) levels. Our results indicate that more brightly coloured birds had lower HSP70 levels than paler birds, but we did not Wnd any signiWcant associa- tion between colour and body condition or immunoglobulin levels. In addition, we found a positive signiWcant associa- tion between Haemoproteus density of infection and HSP60 levels. Overall, these results support the role of carotenoid-based colours as indicators of health status in blue tits and show detrimental eVects of parasitism on this character.
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