Elevated oxidative stress in pied flycatcher nestlings of eumelanic foster fathers under low rearing temperatures [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

P. E. Teerikorpi, J. Stauffer, P. Ilmonen, S. Calhim, W. Schuett, and T. Laaksonen

Striking variation in melanin coloration within natural populations is likely due to the different fitness outcomes of alternative phenotypes in varying environmental conditions. There are two types of melanins. Eumelanins yield blackish hues, while pheomelanins yield reddish hues. The production of eumelanins requires low levels of glutathione (GSH), which is the most important intracellular antioxidant, while the production of pheomelanins requires high levels of GSH. We investigated the oxidative status of male pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca) with different degrees of melanin coloration under different temperatures during the nestling period. Moreover, we assessed the oxidative status of offspring in relation to their biological or foster father’s melanin coloration and ambient temperature. To separate offspring genotype effects and paternal effects in different temperatures, we used a partial cross-foster design. The temperature differently affected the oxidative status of differently colored male pied flycatchers and their foster offspring. When the weather was relatively cold, black males had higher glutathione S-transferase levels compared to brown males, indicating enhanced stress in black males. Foster offspring of black males had lower ratio between reduced and oxidized GSH followed by higher total amount of GSH than foster offspring of brown males. Thus, foster offspring of black males seem to suffer from oxidative stress under relatively cold weather compared to those of brown males, and vice versa under relatively warm weather. While differently colored males experienced changes in their oxidative status under different temperatures, the link between father melanin coloration and offspring oxidative stress appears to be environmentally induced.

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