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The health signalling of ornamental traits in the Grey Partridge (Perdix perdix)

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Abstract

Birds express various secondary ornaments that can indicate individual condition and health. Amongst these, red-coloured carotenoid-based ornaments are supposed to be particularly valuable predictors of individual quality, due to their sensitivity to oxidative stress. Nevertheless, melanin-pigmented traits might also signal health and immune functions. Both types of ornaments may be either skin-based or feather-based, each differing in their dynamics. In the present study, we compared the health- and stress-indicating capacity of melanin-based feather ornamentation and putatively carotenoid-based skin ornamentation in a single species—the Grey Partridge (Perdix perdix), a vulnerable avian species of the European agricultural landscape. In captive males, we firstly verified the carotenoid content of the red-coloured skin tissue behind the eye by chromatography (HPLC). Secondly, we assessed the individual health status of all males by examining differential leukocyte count, the frequency of immature erythrocytes, malaria prevalence and proinflammatory immune responsiveness to phytohaemagglutinin (PHA). Both the size of the melanin-based ornament and red chroma of the carotenoid-based ornament were related to the heterophil:lymphocyte (H/L) ratio. Hence, in the Grey Partridge, both redness of the skin ornament and area of the feather ornament may serve as honest indicators of individual health and long-term stress. However, the two ornamental components were unrelated to each other, and the directions of their association to the H/L ratio were opposite. We therefore propose that, in this species, larger melanin-based feather ornamentation size is linked to higher levels of stress (possibly caused by more intensive social interactions with other males), while the level of expression of the carotenoid-based skin ornamentation more reliably signals actual individual health status. Our results are potentially valuable from the perspective of Grey Partridge conservation efforts, as they indicate a simple method for assessing individual quality in this species.

Zusammenfassung

Ornamentmerkmale als Signale für den Gesundheitszustand beim Rebhuhn ( Perdix perdix )

Vögel schmücken diverse sekundäre Merkmale, die die Kondition und den Gesundheitszustand eines Individuums anzeigen können. Aufgrund ihrer Empfindlichkeit gegenüber oxidativem Stress gelten unter diesen rote, auf Karotinen basierende Schmuckmerkmale als besonders wichtig. Dennoch können auch auf Melaninpigment basierte Merkmale Gesundheitszustand und Immunfunktionen signalisieren. Beide Ornamenttypen treten sowohl in der Haut als auch in Federn auf, wo sie sich hinsichtlich der Dynamik unterscheiden. In der vorliegenden Arbeit verglichen wir die Kapazität von melaninbasierten Gefiedermerkmalen und die vermutlich karotinbasierte Hautfärbung hinsichtlich ihrer Gesundheitszustands- und Stressindikation beim Rebhuhn (Perdix perdix), einer gefährdeten Vogelart der europäischen Agrarlandschaft. Von Rebhuhnmännchen aus Gefangenschaft bestimmten wir zunächst mittels Chromatographie (HPLC) den Karotingehalt der rot gefärbten Haut hinter dem Auge. Daraufhin ermittelten wir den individuellen Gesundheitszustand aller Männchen indem wir differenzielles Blutbild, den Anteil unreifer Erythrozyten, Malaria-Prävalenz und die entzündliche Immunantwort auf Phytohämagglutinin (PHA) untersuchten. Sowohl die melaninbasierte Ornamentik, als auch die Rotfärbung der auf Karotin basierten Merkmale waren mit dem Verhältnis Heterophile zu Lymphozyten (H/L) korreliert. Damit können beim Rebhuhn beide Schmuckkomponenten, die Rotintensität der Haut, und Gefiederpartien als ehrliche Indikatoren der individuellen Gesundheit und von Langzeitstress dienen. Allerdings ließ sich kein Korrelation zwischen den beiden Komponenten feststellen, und die Zusammenhänge beider mit dem H/L Verhältnis waren gegenteilig. Wir vermuten daher, dass beim Rebhuhn größere melaninbasierte Gefiederornamente mit höheren Stresswerten in Verbindung stehen (möglicherweise verursacht durch intensivere soziale Interaktionen mit anderen Männchen), wohingegen die Stärke der karotinbasierten Hautornamentik zuverlässiger den individuellen Gesundheitsstatus signalisieren. Unsere Ergebnisse sind potentiell aus der Sicht von Rebhuhnschutzmaßnahmen von Nutzen, da sie eine einfache Methode zur Bestimmung individueller Qualität bei dieser Art aufzeigen.

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Acknowledgments

We thank to František Vitula and Tereza Chumlenová for their care of experimental animals and Viktorija A. Jandová for her help with ornament analyses. This study was supported by the Czech Science Foundation (P206/08/1281, P506/10/0716), Internal Grant Agency of CULS (CIGA 20114217) and grant SVV-2013-267 201. The authors’ contribution to this paper was as follows: J. S. (25 %)—assistance with animal manipulation, study design and carotenoid identification, statistical analyses and the main role in manuscript preparation, M. V. (25 %)—study design, PHA treatment, metrical measurements, haematological measurement, B. G. (20 %)—ornament analysis, haematological measurement, assistance with animal manipulation and carotenoid identification, P. S. (10 %)—detection of malaria parasites, P. M. (5 %)—carotenoid identification, T. V. (5 %)—carotenoid identification, T. A. (5 %)—study design. All authors contributed by their comments to the manuscript preparation and there were no conflict of interests in this research.

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Correspondence to Jana Svobodová.

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Communicated by K. C. Klasing.

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Svobodová, J., Gabrielová, B., Synek, P. et al. The health signalling of ornamental traits in the Grey Partridge (Perdix perdix). J Ornithol 154, 717–725 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-013-0936-5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-013-0936-5

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