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The effect of dietary carotenoid access on sexual dichromatism and plumage pigment composition in the American goldfinch.

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Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


We investigated potential dietary and biochemical bases for carotenoid-based sexual dichromatism in American goldfinches (Carduelis tristis). Captive male and female finches were given access to the same type and amount of carotenoid pigments in the diet during their nuptial molt to assess differences in the degree to which the two sexes incorporated ingested pigments into their plumage. When birds were fed a uniform, plain-seed diet, or one that was supplemented with the red carotenoid canthaxanthin, we found that males grew more colorful plumage than females. HPLC analyses of feather pigments revealed that male finches incorporated a higher concentration of carotenoids into their pigmented feathers than females. Compared to females, males also deposited significantly more canary xanthophyll B into feathers when fed a plain-seed diet and a greater concentration and proportion of canthaxanthin when fed a carotenoid-supplemented diet. These results indicate that sex-specific expression of carotenoid pigmentation in American goldfinches may be affected by the means by which males and females physiologically utilize (e.g. absorb, transport, metabolize, deposit) carotenoid pigments available to them in the diet.

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