Levels of antioxidants in rural and urban birds and their consequences
Numerous animals have successfully invaded urban habitats, although the factors associated with invasion success remain poorly understood. Urban areas are characterized by warmer microclimates, higher levels of primary productivity, longer breeding seasons and higher levels of pollutants. All these factors should cause oxidative stress, favoring invasion by species that have access to high levels of antioxidants. We analyzed concentrations of two categories of dietary, fat-soluble antioxidants (total carotenoids, total vitamin E) in the liver, the main storage organ in birds. Individuals killed by cats had lower levels of vitamin E than individuals that died for other reasons, showing natural selection on stored antioxidants. Bird species that had successfully colonized urban areas had significantly higher levels of vitamin E and total carotenoids than species that did not succeed, and rural populations had higher concentrations of vitamin E and total carotenoids than urban populations of the same species. Interspecific differences in concentrations of fat-soluble antioxidants, and differences between rural and urban populations of the same species, were accounted for by diet, but also by time since urbanization and number of generations since urbanization. These findings suggest that antioxidants, and by implication the ability to cope with oxidative stress, have contributed to successful invasion of urban areas by birds, and that the concentration of these antioxidants has changed in response to the urban environment.