Testosterone (T) is hypothesized to be an important honesty reinforcer of animal sexual signals. Owing to its immunosuppressive effects, only those individuals that can immunologically withstand high T levels can develop the most exaggerated traits. To date, few studies have isolated phenotypic or genotypic buffers that provide 'high-quality' animals with such an advantage. Dietary carotenoid pigments may in fact confer such a benefit because when in high supply carotenoids boost immunocompetence and coloration in animals like birds and fishes. We examined the experimental effect of T elevation on carotenoid and immune status in male and female zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) and found that T was immunostimulatory in a generalized cell-mediated challenge. We also detected a significant interaction between T treatment and the change in plasma carotenoids that occurred during the immune challenge; the relationship between blood carotenoid change and immunity was positive in controls and negative in T-implanted birds. This suggests that, while correlationally birds with high carotenoid stores were inherently better at mounting strong immune responses, experimentally administered T induced birds to deplete carotenoids for maximizing their health. Our findings highlight a nutrient-specific mechanism by which animals escape high immune costs of T elevation and thus can still elevate ornamentation.
- Carotenoid coloration
- Taeniopygia guttata
- Zebra finch
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)