Biology Faculty Research

Title

Carotenoid-Dependent Signals and the Evolution of Plasma Carotenoid Levels in Birds

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

Fall 12-2014

Abstract

Sexual selection has resulted in a wide array of ornaments used in mate choice, and such indicator traits signal quality honestly when they bear costs, precluding cheating. Carotenoid-dependent coloration has attracted considerable attention in this context, because investing carotenoids in coloration has to be traded off against its physiological functions; carotenoids are antioxidants and increase immunocompetence. This trade-off is hypothesized to underlie the honesty of carotenoid-dependent coloration, signaling the “handicap” of allocating carotenoids away from somatic maintenance toward sexual display. Utilizing recent advances in modeling adaptive evolution, we used a comparative approach to investigate the evolution of plasma carotenoid levels using a species-level phylogeny of 178 bird species. We find that the evolutionary optimum for carotenoid levels is higher in lineages that evolved carotenoid-dependent coloration, with strong attraction toward this optimum. Hence, carotenoids do not appear to be limiting, given that higher carotenoid levels readily evolve in response to the evolution of carotenoid-dependent coloration. These findings challenge the assumption that carotenoids are a scarce resource and thus also challenge the hypothesis that physiological resource value of carotenoids underlies honesty of carotenoid-dependent traits. Therefore, the comparative evidence suggests that other factors, such as the acquisition and incorporation of carotenoids, are involved in maintaining signal honesty.

Publication Title

The American Naturalist

Volume

184

Issue

6

First Page

741

Last Page

751