, Volume 101, Issue 7, pp 541–548 | Cite as

Nestling rearing is antioxidant demanding in female barn swallows (Hirundo rustica)

  • David Costantini
  • Andrea Bonisoli-Alquati
  • Diego Rubolini
  • Manuela Caprioli
  • Roberto Ambrosini
  • Maria Romano
  • Nicola Saino
Original Paper


Reproduction is a demanding activity, since organisms must produce and, in some cases, protect and provision their progeny. Hence, a central tenet of life-history theory predicts that parents have to trade parental care against body maintenance. One physiological cost thought to be particularly important as a modulator of such trade-offs is oxidative stress. However, evidence in favour of the hypothesis of an oxidative cost of reproduction is contradictory. In this study, we manipulated the brood size of wild barn swallows Hirundo rustica soon after hatching of their nestlings to test whether an increase in nestling rearing effort translates into an increased oxidative damage and a decreased antioxidant protection at the end of the nestling rearing period. We found that, while plasma oxidative damage was unaffected by brood size enlargement, females rearing enlarged broods showed a decrease in plasma non-enzymatic antioxidants during the nestling rearing period. This was not the case among females rearing reduced broods and among males assigned to either treatment. Moreover, individuals with higher plasma oxidative damage soon after the brood size manipulation had lower plasma non-enzymatic antioxidants at the end of the nestling rearing period, suggesting that non-enzymatic antioxidants were depleted to buffer the negative effects of high oxidative damage. Our findings point to antioxidant depletion as a potential mechanism mediating the cost of reproduction among female birds.


Antioxidants Life history Oxidative damage Oxidative stress Parental effort Trade-off 



We thankfully acknowledge P. Bize and an anonymous reviewer for providing comments that helped us to improve the presentation of the article. We thank C. Girardo, R. Grossi, T. Noyere, D. Patelli, V. Pignataro, and M. Prinzivalli for help during fieldwork, the International Observatory for Oxidative Stress (Salerno, Italy) for advice and support, G. Brambilla and E. Vignolo for technical and logistical support at the ISS, Rome. ABA was funded by a MIUR PhD grant.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Costantini
    • 1
    • 2
  • Andrea Bonisoli-Alquati
    • 3
  • Diego Rubolini
    • 4
  • Manuela Caprioli
    • 4
  • Roberto Ambrosini
    • 5
  • Maria Romano
    • 4
  • Nicola Saino
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of AntwerpWilrijkBelgium
  2. 2.Institute for Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative MedicineUniversity of GlasgowGlasgowUK
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA
  4. 4.Dipartimento di BioscienzeUniversità degli Studi di MilanoMilanItaly
  5. 5.Dipartimento di Biotecnologie e BioscienzeUniversità degli Studi di Milano-BicoccaMilanItaly

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