, Volume 98, Issue 9, pp 773-782
Date: 27 Jul 2011

Integument coloration signals reproductive success, heterozygosity, and antioxidant levels in chick-rearing black-legged kittiwakes

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Carotenoid pigments are important for immunity and as antioxidants, and carotenoid-based colors are believed to provide honest signals of individual quality. Other colorless but more efficient antioxidants such as vitamins A and E may protect carotenoids from bleaching. Carotenoid-based colors have thus recently been suggested to reflect the concentration of such colorless antioxidants, but this has rarely been tested. Furthermore, although evidence is accruing for multiple genetic criteria for mate choice, carotenoid-based colors have rarely been shown to reflect both phenotypic and genetic quality. In this study, we investigated whether gape, tongue, eye-ring, and bill coloration of chick-rearing black-legged kittiwakes Rissa tridactyla reflected circulating levels of carotenoids and vitamins A and E. We further investigated whether integument coloration reflected phenotypic (body condition and fledging success) and genetic quality (heterozygosity). We found that the coloration of fleshy integuments was correlated with carotenoid and vitamin A levels and fledging success but only in males. Furthermore, the coloration of tongue and eye-ring was correlated with heterozygosity in both males and females. Integument colors might therefore be reliable signals of individual quality used by birds to adjust their parental care during the chick-rearing period.

Communicated by: Sven Thatje