Circulating carotenoid concentrations are positively correlated with later clutch initiation in Florida Scrub-Jays (Aphelocoma coerulescens)



Antioxidants play key roles in preventing free radical damage to various molecules, cells, and tissues, but it is not well understood how variation in antioxidant levels may relate to the reproductive success or health of wild animals. We explored the relationship between circulating antioxidant concentrations and both body condition and timing of reproduction in male and female Florida Scrub-Jays (Aphelocoma coerulescens), a cooperatively breeding passerine bird. We examined whether levels of uric acid, vitamin E, and carotenoids (all potentially important antioxidants) were linked to body condition and timing of reproduction, two measures that are directly related to reproductive success. Antioxidant concentrations were not correlated with body condition, but they were related to timing of first clutch initiation, though not always in the predicted direction. Elevated circulating levels of carotenoids were associated with delayed clutch initiation in female breeders. Relatively higher vitamin E levels in control birds were associated with earlier clutch initiation, whereas male breeders that received long-term food supplementation had elevated levels of vitamin E and delayed reproduction. Several potential explanations for the link between elevated levels of antioxidants and delayed clutch initiation are discussed. Separate explanations for each sex include, but are not limited to, oxidative stress as a result of territory defense efforts in males, different dietary regimes due to supplementation, and mobilized plasma antioxidants in females that were coping with a stressor. J. Exp. Zool. 315:101–110, 2011. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.