Physiological stress links parasites to carotenoid-based colour signals

F Mougeot, Jesus Martinez-Padilla, G. R. Bortolotti, L M I Webster, Stuart Brannon Piertney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Citations (Scopus)


Vertebrates commonly use carotenoid-based traits as social signals. These can reliably advertise current nutritional status and health because carotenoids must be acquired through the diet and their allocation to ornaments is traded-off against other self-maintenance needs. We propose that the coloration more generally reveals an individual's ability to cope with stressful conditions. We tested this idea by manipulating the nematode parasite infection in free-living red grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus) and examining the effects on body mass, carotenoid-based coloration of a main social signal and the amount of corticosterone deposited in feathers grown during the experiment. We show that parasites increase stress and reduce carotenoid-based coloration, and that the impact of parasites on coloration was associated with changes in corticosterone, more than changes in body mass. Carotenoid-based coloration appears linked to physiological stress and could therefore reveal an individual's ability to cope with stressors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)643-650
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number3
Early online date13 Jan 2010
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2010


  • feather corticosterone
  • nematode parasite
  • red grouse Lagopus lagopus scoticus
  • sexual selection
  • signal evolution
  • trade-off
  • Trichostrongylus tenuis
  • lagopus-lagopus-scoticus
  • male red grouse
  • autumn territorial behavior
  • plumage coloration
  • immune function
  • zebra finches
  • house finches
  • mate choice
  • corticosterone
  • testosterone


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