, Volume 162, Issue 4, pp 825–835

Carotenoid-based plumage colouration is associated with blood parasite richness and stress protein levels in blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus)

  • Sara del Cerro
  • Santiago Merino
  • Josué Martínez-de la Puente
  • Elisa Lobato
  • Rafael Ruiz-de-Castañeda
  • Juan Rivero-de Aguilar
  • Javier Martínez
  • Judith Morales
  • Gustavo Tomás
  • Juan Moreno
Physiological ecology - Original paper


Carotenoids are molecules that birds are not able to synthesize and therefore, must be acquired through their diet. These pigments, besides their function of giving birds red and yellow colouration when deposited in feathers, seem to act as immune-stimulators and antioxidants in the organism. Hence, only the healthiest individuals would be able to express carotenoid-based ornaments to a larger extent without compromising the physiological functions of carotenoids. Various studies have reported that birds infected by parasites are paler than those uninfected, but, to our knowledge, none of them has assessed the possible effect of multiple infections by blood parasites on plumage colour. By comparing the yellow colour in the breast plumage of blue tits, Cyanistes caeruleus, between birds infected by different numbers of blood parasite genera, we found that those birds infected by more than one genus were paler than those parasitized just by one. In addition, we examined the potential role of carotenoid-based plumage colour of blue tits as a long-term indicator of other parameters of health status, such as body condition and immunoglobulin and heat shock protein (HSP) levels. Our results indicate that more brightly coloured birds had lower HSP70 levels than paler birds, but we did not find any significant association between colour and body condition or immunoglobulin levels. In addition, we found a positive significant association between Haemoproteus density of infection and HSP60 levels. Overall, these results support the role of carotenoid-based colours as indicators of health status in blue tits and show detrimental effects of parasitism on this character.


Bird Health status Heat shock proteins Multiple infections Yellow breast 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sara del Cerro
    • 1
  • Santiago Merino
    • 1
  • Josué Martínez-de la Puente
    • 1
  • Elisa Lobato
    • 1
  • Rafael Ruiz-de-Castañeda
    • 1
  • Juan Rivero-de Aguilar
    • 1
  • Javier Martínez
    • 2
  • Judith Morales
    • 3
  • Gustavo Tomás
    • 4
  • Juan Moreno
    • 1
  1. 1.Departamento de Ecología EvolutivaMuseo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (CSIC)MadridSpain
  2. 2.Departamento de Microbiología y Parasitología, Facultad de FarmaciaUniversidad de AlcaláAlcalá de HenaresSpain
  3. 3.Departamento de Ecoloxía e Bioloxía Animal, Facultade de CienciasUniversidade de VigoPontevedraSpain
  4. 4.Departamento de Ecología Evolutiva, Instituto de EcologíaUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de MéxicoMéxico, D.F.México

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