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Carotenoid supplementation positively affects the expression of a non-visual sexual signal

Journal Contribution - e-publication

Carotenoids are a class of pigments which are widely used by animals for the expression of yellow-to-red colour signals, such as bill or plumage colour. Since they also have been shown to promote immunocompetence and to function as antioxidants, many studies have investigated a potential allocation trade-off with respect to carotenoid-based signals within the context of sexual selection. Although an effect of carotenoids on non-visual (e.g. acoustic) signals involved in sexual selection has been hypothesized, this has to date not been investigated. First, we examined a potential effect of dietary carotenoid supplementation on overall song rate during the non-breeding season in captive male European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). After only 37 days, we found a significant (body-mass independent) positive effect of carotenoid availability on overall song rate. Secondly, as a number of studies suggest that carotenoids could affect the modulation of sexual signals by plasma levels of the steroid hormone testosterone (T), we used the same birds to subsequently investigate whether carotenoid availability affects the increase in (nestbox-oriented) song rate induced by experimentally elevated plasma T levels. Our results suggest that carotenoids may enhance the positive effect of elevated plasma T levels on nestbox-oriented song rate. Moreover, while non-supplemented starlings responded to T-implantation with an increase in both overall song rate and nestbox-oriented song, carotenoid-supplemented starlings instead shifted song production towards (reproductively relevant) nestbox-oriented song, without increasing overall song rate. Given that song rate is an acoustic signal rather than a visual signal, our findings therefore indicate that the role of carotenoids in (sexual) signalling need not be dependent on their function as pigments.
Journal: PLoS ONE
ISSN: 1932-6203
Volume: 6
Pages: e16326,1 - e16326,6
Publication year:2011