Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 66, Issue 4, pp 539–546

Solicitation displays reliably reflect oxidative damage in barn swallow nestlings


    • Dipartimento di BiologiaUniversità degli Studi di Milano
    • Department of ZoologyUniversity of Cambridge
  • Manuela Caprioli
    • Dipartimento di BiologiaUniversità degli Studi di Milano
  • Nicola Saino
    • Dipartimento di BiologiaUniversità degli Studi di Milano
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00265-011-1302-3

Cite this article as:
Boncoraglio, G., Caprioli, M. & Saino, N. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2012) 66: 539. doi:10.1007/s00265-011-1302-3


Reproduction entails parental decisions over allocation of limiting resources. ‘Begging’ solicitation displays by the offspring have been hypothesised to evolve as reliable indicators of quality, allowing parents to adopt optimal allocation strategies. To function as such, however, begging signals must covary with offspring traits that affect viability. Here we tested whether oxidative damage of nestling barn swallows predicts begging bout duration, call amplitude and intensity of postural displays both under normal food provisioning and under food shortage. Oxidative damage as determined by normal metabolism, pathological conditions and functioning of the immune system can serve as a comprehensive indicator of offspring condition because it can profoundly affect viability, senescence and reproduction. Begging bout duration was negatively predicted by oxidative damage but only after food deprivation. Postural begging negatively covaried with oxidative damage, at least when nestlings were confronted with related nest mates. Plasma antioxidant capacity did not predict begging behaviour. Thus, we show for the first time that behavioural begging covaries with a comprehensive index of chick condition, lending support to reliability of such begging traits also as signals of quality rather than need or hunger only. Future studies are candidate to decouple the effect of hunger state and individual condition on behavioural begging.


AntioxidantsHonest signallingOxidative stressParent–offspring communicationParental careSibling competition

Supplementary material

265_2011_1302_MOESM1_ESM.doc (54 kb)
ESM 1(DOC 54 kb)

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011