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Effects of carotenoid availability during laying on reproduction in the blue tit

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Abstract

Carotenoids are antioxidant pigments involved in several physiological processes and signalling in animals that cannot synthesise them and therefore must acquire them from food. We experimentally investigated the effects of carotenoid availability in the diet during egg laying on antioxidant deposition in egg yolk and the related effects on nestling condition, female body condition and parental investment in the blue tit (Parus caeruleus). Carotenoid supplementation of egg-laying females resulted in a significant increase in carotenoid concentration in egg yolk, but not in vitamin E or A concentration. There was no relationship between yellow plumage colour of adult females and carotenoid deposition in eggs, and no differential effect of feeding treatment depending on female colour. Nestlings from eggs laid by carotenoid supplemented females had longer tarsi, had faster development of the immune system as reflected by leukocyte concentration in blood, and grew brighter yellow feathers than nestlings from control females. However, nestlings from the two groups did not differ significantly in body mass, plasma antioxidants or plumage colour hue. At the time of chick rearing, carotenoid-fed females had increased plasma vitamin E levels compared to controls. However, females from the two treatment groups did not differ significantly in body condition or feeding rate. These results suggest that carotenoid availability is limiting during egg laying, and that females may have to balance the benefits of investing in egg quality against the potential costs of impairing their own future antioxidant protection. In addition, there may be considerable variation in carotenoid availability not only across seasons, but also among different stages of the breeding season.

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Acknowledgements

Bird supplemental feeding, capture and ringing as well as egg and blood samplings were done under Ringing Licence (CRBPO Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle) and special authorisation for protected species (DIREN Champagne-Ardenne). Kemin Europa kindly provided samples of carotenoids (OroGlo Layer Dry). Fieldwork was done under permission of Parc Naturel Régional de la Forêt d’Orient and Office National des Forêts. We thank B. Auclair, S. Cassier and V. Coutouly for help in the field. J. Avilès, F. Cézilly, A. and V. Husté and three anonymous referees provided helpful comments on earlier version of the manuscript. J. M. Rossi developed software for reflectance spectrum analysis and colour parameter calculation. C.B. was supported by a doctoral grant from Ministère de l’Education et de la Recherche and P.F.S. was supported by the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department.

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Correspondence to Clotilde Biard.

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Communicated by Roland Brandl

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Biard, C., Surai, P.F. & Møller, A.P. Effects of carotenoid availability during laying on reproduction in the blue tit. Oecologia 144, 32–44 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-005-0048-x

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