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J Exp Biol. 2010 Jun 15;213(Pt 12):2116-24. doi: 10.1242/jeb.040220.

Carotenoid-based coloration, oxidative stress and corticosterone in common lizards.

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Laboratoire Ecologie et Evolution, UMR 7625 Université Pierre et Marie Curie, 7, quai Saint-Bernard, 75005 Paris, France.


Environmental factors including stressors, health status and social context significantly affect carotenoid-based coloration. For instance, stressors may induce the diversion of carotenoids from pigmentation pathways, potentially explaining why stressed animals often exhibit reduced coloration. However, we recently showed that high blood corticosterone concentrations, which are part of the physiological stress response, are associated with increased redness of the belly in the common lizard (Lacerta vivipara). This result clearly contrasts with the findings of many studies of carotenoid-based coloration because corticosterone is believed to increase oxidative stress. Here, we examined whether these positive effects are influenced by differences in food availability. We tested the effect of high corticosterone levels on carotenoid-based coloration, antioxidant enzyme activity and oxidative damage in common lizards subject to low and high food availability. Food restriction abolished the carotenoid-based color enhancement when corticosterone concentrations in animals were high. We discuss how carotenoid-based color can honestly signal individual quality in this species and how the increased redness induced by corticosterone could be a terminal investment in an environment where long-term survival prospects are poor but not when immediate survival is endangered.

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