Carotenoids in the egg yolks of collared flycatchers (Ficedula albicollis) in relation to parental quality, environmental factors and laying order

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Birds may influence the fitness of their offspring by transmission of different amounts of carotenoids to their eggs. Carotenoids play crucial roles in antioxidant protection and immune defence mechanisms, but they may be available to females in limiting amounts. Therefore, their allocation to the eggs may be influenced by the female's condition, age and environmental circumstances. Furthermore, the quality of the male parent, which affects the reproductive value of the offspring, may also influence this investment. In this correlational study, we investigated proximate and ultimate factors that may lead to variation in yolk lutein, zeaxanthin and β-carotene concentrations among and within clutches of a wild passerine, the collared flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis). We found that carotenoid concentration was positively associated with caterpillar supply at the time of egg formation, which suggests a proximate constraint of carotenoid availability on yolk composition. Neither female condition, body size, age, nor male plumage ornamentation, age and body size correlated with carotenoid deposition. Yolk β-carotene concentration was found to be positively linked to yolk testosterone concentration. We suggest that females allocated more β-carotene to their eggs to mitigate the potentially detrimental effects of elevated steroid concentration. We found that concentration of β-carotene increased with laying order. The possible function of this pattern may be to enhance the resistance to oxidative stress and pathogens of the disadvantaged last-hatching nestling, suggesting that collared flycatchers pursue a compensatory, "brood survival" strategy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)541-550
Number of pages10
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1 2007


  • Brood survival strategy
  • Egg quality
  • Maternal effects
  • Testosterone
  • β-Carotene

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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