Oxidative physiology of reproduction in a passerine bird: a field experiment

  • Péter L. Pap
  • Orsolya Vincze
  • Attila Fülöp
  • Orsolya Székely-Béres
  • Laura Pătraș
  • Janka Pénzes
  • Csongor I. Vágási
Original Article


Organisms face resource trade-offs to support their parental effort and survival. The life-history oxidative stress hypothesis predicts that an individual’s redox state modulates the trade-off between current and residual fitness, but this has seldom been tested experimentally in non-captive organisms. In this study, we manipulated the brood size in breeding pairs of barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) and found that females tending enlarged broods had increased levels of plasma oxidative damage (malondialdehyde concentration). This effect, however, was not accompanied by either a depletion, or defensive upregulation in antioxidants (glutathione, total antioxidant capacity, and uric acid) that may explain the increase in oxidative damage. Brood size manipulation and the level of plasma oxidative damage during brood rearing are not translated into decreased annual return rate, which does not support the oxidative stress hypothesis of life-history trade-offs. On the contrary, we found that female’s oxidative damage and total glutathione levels, an important intracellular non-enzymatic antioxidant measured at hatching decreased and correlated positively, respectively with annual return rate, suggesting that oxidative condition at hatching might be a more important contributor to fitness than the oxidative physiology measured during chick rearing. We also show that individual traits and ecological factors, such as the timing of breeding and the abundance of blood-sucking nest mites, correlated with the redox state of males and females during brood care.

Significance statement

Oxidative stress is one of the most important physiological costs of reproduction and thus a key modulator of life-history trade-offs. In this study, we manipulated reproductive effort in breeding pairs of barn swallows and found that females tending enlarged broods had increased levels of plasma oxidative damage. This effect, however, was not accompanied by either a depletion or upregulation in antioxidants that may explain the increase in oxidative damage. We found that female’s oxidative damage and total glutathione levels measured at hatching decreased and correlated positively, respectively with annual return rate, suggesting that oxidative condition at hatching might be an important contributor to fitness. Brood size manipulation and the increased levels of plasma oxidative damage are not translated into decreased annual return rate; thus, our results support the hypothesis that reproductive effort has a transient effect on oxidative physiology.


Antioxidants Barn swallows Life-history trade-offs Lipid peroxidation Oxidative stress Parasitism 



We thank Jácint Nagy for his help in data collection, Manuela Banciu and Alina Sesarman for their help with the biochemical assays, and Gareth Dyke for English editing. We are grateful to Antoine Stier, Pierre Bize, and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.

Author contributions

PLP and CIV conceived and designed the study. PLP, OV, AF, OSB, LP, and CIV performed the study. OV and PLP analyzed the data. PLP, CIV, OV, and AF wrote the manuscript. All authors commented, read, and approved the final manuscript.

Funding information

This study was founded by a bilateral collaboration grant between Romanian and Hungarian research groups (RO–HU 679/2010), by a research grant of the Romanian Ministry of Education and Research (#PN-III-P4-ID-PCE-2016-0404), and by the Hungarian National Research, Development and Innovation Office (OTKA grant K11308 to Ádám Z. Lendvai). PLP was financed by the János Bolyai Research Scholarship of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (HAS), and OV was supported by the Hungarian Eötvös Scholarship (MÁEÖ2017_16/156845) awarded by the Tempus Public Foundation and by the Ginko Investments Ltd. AF was supported through the ÚNKP-16-3-IV New National Excellence Program of the Ministry of Human Capacities of Hungary, and also by two scholarships of the Campus Hungary Program (grants B2/1SZ/11551 and B2/1R/19362), and by a grant from the Hungarian National Research, Development and Innovation Office (OTKA grant no. K112527). CIV was financed by the János Bolyai Research Scholarship of the HAS and a post-doctoral grant of the Hungarian National Research, Development and Innovation Office (PD 121166).

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

Birds were handled in strict accordance with good animal welfare and ethical prescriptions.

The authors declare that this publication complies with the current laws of the country in which the experiment was performed (Romania).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

265_2017_2434_MOESM1_ESM.docx (18 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 17 kb).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Péter L. Pap
    • 1
    • 2
  • Orsolya Vincze
    • 1
    • 2
  • Attila Fülöp
    • 1
    • 2
  • Orsolya Székely-Béres
    • 1
  • Laura Pătraș
    • 3
    • 4
  • Janka Pénzes
    • 1
  • Csongor I. Vágási
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Evolutionary Ecology Group, Hungarian Department of Biology and EcologyBabeş-Bolyai UniversityCluj NapocaRomania
  2. 2.MTA-DE Behavioural Ecology Research Group, Department of Evolutionary Zoology and Human BiologyUniversity of DebrecenDebrecenHungary
  3. 3.Department of Molecular Biology and BiotechnologyBabeş-Bolyai UniversityCluj NapocaRomania
  4. 4.Molecular Biology Centre, Institute for Interdisciplinary Research in Bio-Nano-SciencesBabeş-Bolyai UniversityCluj NapocaRomania

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