, Volume 92, Issue 1, pp 30–34 | Cite as

Carotenoid-based plumage coloration predicts resistance to a novel parasite in the house finch

  • Geoffrey E. HillEmail author
  • Kristy L. Farmer
Short communication


The Hamilton-Zuk hypothesis proposes that the bright colours displayed by many species of birds serve as signals of individual resistance to parasites. Despite the popularity of this hypothesis, only one previous study has tested whether plumage coloration predicts how individuals respond to a disease challenge. We inoculated 24 male house finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) of variable plumage hue with a novel bacterial pathogen, Mycoplasma gallicepticum (MG). We found no relationship between plumage hue and time to first symptoms following inoculation, but we found a significant negative relationship between plumage hue and clearance of disease: males with redder plumage cleared MG infection significantly better than did males with yellower plumage. The hue of carotenoid-based plumage coloration has been shown to be a primary criterion in female mate choice in the house finch. These observations suggest that one benefit to females for choosing redder males is obtaining mates with better resistance to parasites.


Carotenoid Carotenoid Pigment Plumage Coloration House Finch Redd Male 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Michelle Beck helped capture birds on Hawaii and Ashley King and Brad Staton scored infection and maintained captive birds. This research was funded by NSF grant DEB0077804. Birds were collected and held in captivity under permits from the state of Hawaii and the United States Department of the Interior. All infection protocols carried out in this study were approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee at Auburn University.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesAuburn UniversityAuburnUSA

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