, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 138–146 | Cite as

Plasma Glutathione and Carotenoid Coloration as Potential Biomarkers of Environmental Stress in Great Tits

  • Caroline Isaksson
  • Jonas Örnborg
  • Eiríkur Stephensen
  • Staffan Andersson


Measures of oxidative stress in animals may be useful biomarkers of environmental stressors, such as anthropogenic pollution. In birds, studies of oxidative stress have focused on dietary antioxidants, primarily carotenoids, which are interesting due to their multiple physiological and pigmentary functions but therefore also unspecifically related to oxidative stress. A useful complementary biomarker may be the glutathione system, commonly used in human medicine, but rarely applied to wild, terrestrial vertebrates. In this study of urban versus rural adult and nestling great tits Parus major, we investigated both the carotenoid-based yellow plumage (by reflectance spectrometry) and the plasma levels of glutathione, the latter measured as total glutathione (tGSH) and as the ratio between oxidized and reduced glutathione (GSSG:GSH), respectively. We found that urban adults had higher current oxidative stress (GSSG:GSH) and paler yellow plumage compared to rural adults, suggesting elevated stress in the urban environment. Total glutathione levels (tGSH), however, which may indicate long-term up-regulation of the GSH reservoir, did not differ between the environments. Nestlings did not show any consistent pattern between environments in either tGSH or GSSG:GSH and, among individuals, glutathione levels were uncorrelated with carotenoid coloration. The results thus suggest some population-level correspondence between the two stress biomarkers in adult birds, but more work is obviously needed to understand how the two antioxidant systems interact in different individuals and in response to different environmental disturbances.

Key words

oxidative stress Parus major bioindicator GSSG:GSH pigmentation 


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Copyright information

© EcoHealth Journal Consortium 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Caroline Isaksson
    • 1
  • Jonas Örnborg
    • 1
  • Eiríkur Stephensen
    • 1
  • Staffan Andersson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyGöteborg UniversityGöteborgSweden

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