Physiological stress links parasites to carotenoid-based colour signals


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Abstract

Vertebrates commonly use carotenoid-based traits as social signals. These can reliably advertise current nutritional status and health because carotenoids must be acquired through the diet and their allocation to ornaments is traded-off against other self-maintenance needs. We propose that the coloration more generally reveals an individual's ability to cope with stressful conditions. We tested this idea by manipulating the nematode parasite infection in free-living red grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus) and examining the effects on body mass, carotenoid-based coloration of a main social signal and the amount of corticosterone deposited in feathers grown during the experiment. We show that parasites increase stress and reduce carotenoid-based coloration, and that the impact of parasites on coloration was associated with changes in corticosterone, more than changes in body mass. Carotenoid-based coloration appears linked to physiological stress and could therefore reveal an individual's ability to cope with stressors.

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