Plasma carotenoid levels are not directly related to heavy metal exposure or reproductive success in three insectivorous passerines



The authors measured plasma carotenoid levels in three insectivorous bird species, the pied flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca), the blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus), and the great tit (Parus major) in metal-polluted and unpolluted sites around a copper smelter. Their aim was to determine whether there was interspecific, age-related, or yearly variation in carotenoid levels and their responses to the ambient pollution level. The three bird species showed qualitatively and quantitatively similar carotenoid profiles, with lutein being always the predominant plasma carotenoid. Ficedula hypoleuca nestlings showed higher plasma carotenoid levels in the unpolluted than in the polluted area, whereas no significant differences were found in F. hypoleuca females or in nestlings or females of the Parids. Yearly comparison of plasma concentrations (only for P. major nestlings) showed, however, that levels varied nonsynchronously between polluted and unpolluted sites among the breeding seasons, with the yearly variation being higher in the polluted area. The survival of nestlings did not depend on their plasma carotenoid concentrations. The two Parid species showed lower nestling survival at sites with high metal exposure levels. The authors conclude that plasma carotenoid levels showed a marked spatial, temporal, and age-related variation, but were not directly related to heavy metal exposure or the reproductive success of birds. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2012;31:1363–1369. © 2012 SETAC