, Volume 161, Issue 4, pp 673–683 | Cite as

Serum antioxidant levels in wild birds vary in relation to diet, season, life history strategy, and species

  • Alan A. Cohen
  • Kevin J. McGraw
  • W. Douglas Robinson
Physiological Ecology - Original Paper


Micronutrient antioxidants are thought to be generally important for health in many animals, but factors determining levels in individuals and species are not well understood. Diet and season are obvious environmental variables that might predict the degree to which species can accumulate such nutrients. We analyzed antioxidant levels [Trolox-equivalent antioxidant capacity (TEAC), uric acid (UA), vitamin E, and four carotenoids] in 95 bird species and compared these to species-level data on diet from the literature. Using compositional principal components analysis, we identified two main axes of diet variation: invertebrate consumption and seed-to-fruit ratio. We then examined associations between diet axes and antioxidant measures, with and without control for life-history variation and phylogeny. We also analyzed a subset of 13 species for which we had data on seasonality of antioxidant levels and diet, assessing the variance in antioxidant levels explained by seasonality, diet, and species. Unsurprisingly, there were strong associations between antioxidant levels and diet. TEAC and UA concentration were consistently positively associated with invertebrate consumption and seed-to-fruit ratio, and carotenoid concentrations (e.g. zeaxanthin and β-carotene) were negatively associated with invertebrate consumption. However, vitamin E was not associated with diet as measured here. Importantly, there is much variation in antioxidants that is not explained by diet, and we are able to identify diet-independent effects of species, season/breeding stage, and life history on antioxidant levels. Circulating antioxidant concentrations within and across species can therefore be viewed as a function of multiple factors, including but not limited to diet, and antioxidant metabolism appears to differ across species and seasons irrespective of diet.


Carotenoid Fruit Insect Seed Uric acid Vitamin E 



We thank R. E. Ricklefs, J. D. Brawn, P. Wiersma, J. B. Williams, and T. R. Robinson for the life history data used here. Field and lab help was provided by the Jack Cerchiara, Trevor Rivers, and the K. C. Klasing, M. Wikelski, and M. Hau labs. G. van den Bogaart helped with compositional analysis. David Costantini and three anonymous reviewers provided helpful comments on the manuscript. A.A.C. and some research expenses were supported by a Howard Hughes Medical Institute predoctoral fellowship; sampling was conducted under NSF IBN-0212587. Field support was received from the Kellogg Biological Station and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. All research was conducted in accordance with the laws of the United States and Panama and with the approval of the University of Missouri-St. Louis Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (XLS 88 kb)
442_2009_1423_MOESM2_ESM.doc (310 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOC 310 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alan A. Cohen
    • 1
    • 4
  • Kevin J. McGraw
    • 2
  • W. Douglas Robinson
    • 3
  1. 1.University of Missouri-St. LouisSt. LouisUSA
  2. 2.Arizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  3. 3.Oregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA
  4. 4.Centre for Global Health ResearchSt. Michael’s HospitalTorontoCanada

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