1. Maternal investment in egg quality can have important consequences for offspring fitness. For example, yolk antioxidants can affect embryonic development as well as juvenile and adult phenotype. Thus, females may be selected to advertise their yolk antioxidant deposition to discriminatory males via ornamental signals, perhaps depending on the reproductive costs associated with signal production.
2. Female striped plateau lizards (Sceloporus virgatus) develop pterin-based orange colour patches during the reproductive season that influence male behaviour and that are positively associated with the phenotypic quality of the female and her offspring. Here, we assessed one potential developmental mechanism underlying the relationship between offspring quality and female ornamentation in S. virgatus, by examining the relationship between ornament expression and yolk antioxidant levels.
3. As expected, concentrations of the yolk antioxidants vitamin A, vitamin E and carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin) were strongly positively intercorrelated. Eggs from larger clutches had fewer antioxidants than eggs from smaller clutches, suggesting that females may be limited in antioxidant availability or use. Fertilized and unfertilized eggs did not differ in yolk antioxidant levels.
4. The size of a female’s ornament was positively related to both the concentration and total amount of yolk antioxidants, and ornament colour was positively related to yolk antioxidant concentration. Thus, in S. virgatus, female ornaments may advertise egg quality. In addition, these data suggest that more ornamented females may produce higher-quality offspring, in part because their eggs contain more antioxidants. As the colour ornament of interest is derived from pterins, not carotenoids, direct resource trade-offs between ornaments and eggs may be eliminated, reducing reproductive costs associated with signalling.
5. This is the first example of a positive relationship between female ornamentation and yolk antioxidants in reptiles and may indicate the general importance of these patterns in oviparous vertebrates.