Testosterone treatment can increase circulating carotenoids but does not affect yellow carotenoid-based plumage colour in blue tits Cyanistes caeruleus


A. Peters, Sexual Signals Group, Max Planck Inst. for Ornithology, Vogelwarte Radolfzell, Schlossallee 2, DE-78315 Radolfzell, Germany. E-mail: anne.peters@monash.edu


A number of mechanisms are responsible for producing the variation in natural colours, and these need not act in isolation. A recent hypothesis states that carotenoid-based coloration, in addition to carotenoid availability, is also enhanced by elevated levels of circulating testosterone (T). This has only been tested for carotenoid-coloured bare parts in birds. We performed an experimental manipulation of T levels and examined the effects on the yellow carotenoid-based breast plumage in captive yearling blue tits Cyanistes caeruleus, of which half received a diet supplemented with carotenoids. T treatment resulted in elevated plasma T compared to controls and carotenoid supplementation strongly increased plasma carotenoid levels. T treatment resulted in an additional increase in plasma carotenoid levels but only in the carotenoid-supplemented males. Carotenoid supplementation resulted in more intense breast colour (carotenoid chroma), as expected. However, there was no effect of testosterone on plumage coloration at either dietary carotenoid level. Our results suggest that T can cause an increase in plasma carotenoid concentration, but that this does not necessarily lead to improved carotenoid-based plumage coloration.