Testing an assumption of the sexual-signaling hypothesis: Does blue-green egg color reflect maternal antioxidant capacity?

Daniel Hanley*, Gabriel Heiber, Donald C. Dearborn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations

Abstract

The presence of blue-green egg pigmentation has puzzled naturalists for more than 100 years. One hypothesis on the function of this pigmentation proposes that blue-green egg chroma signals female quality and that males respond to this signal by increased provisioning to presumably higher-quality clutches. The hypothesized mechanism is that blue-green egg color signals female antioxidant capacity, because the eggshell pigment responsible for blue-green coloration, biliverdin, has antioxidant properties in the mother. Our study is the first to examine this mechanism, which is critical to this hypothesis. We found that female Gray Catbirds with higher total antioxidant capacity laid eggs with higher blue-green chroma. In addition, we found that males provided more care to nestlings from clutches with higher average blue-green egg chroma. This shows an intriguing potential link between female antioxidant capacity and blue-green egg chroma. Interpreting the variation in females' antioxidant capacity will require a better understanding of the relative importance of dietary intake of antioxidants, oxidative stress, and the cost of depositing biliverdin into eggs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)767-771
Number of pages5
JournalCondor
Volume110
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2008

Keywords

  • Antioxidant capacity
  • Biliverdin
  • Egg coloration
  • Parental effort
  • Pigment
  • Sexual signaling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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