Sex- and melanism-specific variations in the oxidative status of adult tawny owls in response to manipulated reproductive effort

Guillaume Emaresi, Isabelle Henry, Esther Gonzalez, Alexandre Roulin, Pierre Bize

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15 Citations (Scopus)
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Oxidative stress, determined by the balance between the production of damaging reactive oxygen species (ROS) and antioxidant defences, is hypothesised to play an important role in shaping the cost of reproduction and life history trade-offs. To test this hypothesis, we manipulated reproductive effort in 94 breeding pairs of tawny owls (Strix aluco) to investigate the sex- and melanic-specific effects on markers of oxidative stress in red blood cells (RBCs). This colour polymorphic bird species shows sex-specific division of labour and melanic-specific history strategies. Brood sizes at hatching were experimentally enlarged or reduced to increase or decrease reproductive effort, respectively. We obtained an integrative measure of the oxidative balance by measuring ROS production by RBC, intracellular antioxidant gluthatione levels (tGSH) and membrane resistance to ROS. We found that light melanic males (the sex assuming offspring food provisioning) produced more ROS than darker conspecifics, but only when rearing an enlarged brood. In both sexes, light melanic individuals had also a larger pool of intracellular antioxidant glutathione than darker owls under relaxed reproductive conditions (i.e. reduced brood), but not when investing substantial effort in current reproduction (enlarged brood). Finally, resistance to oxidative stress was differently affected by the brood size manipulation experiment in males and females independently of their plumage coloration. Altogether, our results support the hypothesis that reproductive effort can alter the oxidative balance in a sex- and colour-specific way. This further emphasizes the close link between melanin-based coloration and life history strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-79
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number1
Early online date13 Nov 2015
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jan 2016


  • Brood size manipulation
  • Colour polymorphism
  • Glutathione
  • Life history traits
  • ROS production
  • Oxidative stress


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