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J Evol Biol. 2014 Sep;27(9):1990-2000. doi: 10.1111/jeb.12454. Epub 2014 Jul 21.

Resistance to oxidative stress shows low heritability and high common environmental variance in a wild bird.

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School of Biological Sciences, Zoology Building, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK; Evolutionary Ecology Lab, Institute of Ecology and Evolution, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland.


Oxidative stress was recently demonstrated to affect several fitness-related traits and is now well recognized to shape animal life-history evolution. However, very little is known about how much resistance to oxidative stress is determined by genetic and environmental effects and hence about its potential for evolution, especially in wild populations. In addition, our knowledge of phenotypic sexual dimorphism and cross-sex genetic correlations in resistance to oxidative stress remains extremely limited despite important evolutionary implications. In free-living great tits (Parus major), we quantified heritability, common environmental effect, sexual dimorphism and cross-sex genetic correlation in offspring resistance to oxidative stress by performing a split-nest cross-fostering experiment where 155 broods were split, and all siblings (n = 791) translocated and raised in two other nests. Resistance to oxidative stress was measured as both oxidative damage to lipids and erythrocyte resistance to a controlled free-radical attack. Both measurements of oxidative stress showed low additive genetic variances, high common environmental effects and phenotypic sexual dimorphism with males showing a higher resistance to oxidative stress. Cross-sex genetic correlations were not different from unity, and we found no substantial heritability in resistance to oxidative stress at adult age measured on 39 individuals that recruited the subsequent year. Our study shows that individual ability to resist to oxidative stress is primarily influenced by the common environment and has a low heritability with a consequent low potential for evolution, at least at an early stage of life.


Parus major; additive genetic variance; common environment; cross-sex genetic correlation; heritability; oxidative stress

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