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Comp Biochem Physiol C Toxicol Pharmacol. 2006 Oct;144(2):166-72. Epub 2006 Aug 30.

Antioxidant protection and plasma carotenoids of incubating great tits (Parus major L.) in relation to health state and breeding conditions.

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  • 1Institute of Zoology and Hydrobiology, Centre of Basic and Applied Ecology, University of Tartu, Vanemuise 46, Tartu 51014, Estonia.


Carotenoids are biologically active pigments, which are important for animals due to their dual role in health maintenance and ornamental signalling. In adult birds, immunostimulatory properties of carotenoids have been repeatedly demonstrated while much less is known about the importance of carotenoids as antioxidants. We studied the relationships between plasma carotenoid levels, as well as total antioxidant protection, and various hemato-serological health state indices in female great tits (Parus major L.), incubating their second clutches in two contrasting (coniferous and deciduous) habitats in southwest Estonia. To manipulate reproductive effort, four eggs were removed from half of the clutches during laying to stimulate females to lay additional eggs. However, egg removal had no effect on the final number of eggs laid. Plasma carotenoid levels increased seasonally in parallel with caterpillar food availability. However, no between-habitat differences in carotenoid levels, total antioxidant capacity, or indices of health state could be found despite the apparently better feeding conditions in the coniferous habitat. No correlation was detected between plasma carotenoid levels and measures of total antioxidant capacity, which suggests that at least for the adult birds feeding on naturally carotenoid-rich diet, antioxidant function of carotenoids is not of primary importance. A strong non-linear association between the measures of antioxidant protection and leukocytic markers of inflammation was found, which suggests that measures of total antioxidant capacity deserve further attention in ecophysiological studies as potential indicators of immunopathology.

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