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PLoS One. 2015 Aug 25;10(8):e0136582. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0136582. eCollection 2015.

Body Condition Indices Predict Reproductive Success but Not Survival in a Sedentary, Tropical Bird.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, United States of America.
Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, United States of America.
Australian Wildlife Conservancy, Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary, Derby, Western Australia, Australia; Research Institute for Environment and Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University, Casuarina, Northern Territory, Australia.


Body condition may predict individual fitness because those in better condition have more resources to allocate towards improving their fitness. However, the hypothesis that condition indices are meaningful proxies for fitness has been questioned. Here, we ask if intraspecific variation in condition indices predicts annual reproductive success and survival. We monitored a population of Neochmia phaeton (crimson finch), a sedentary, tropical passerine, for reproductive success and survival over four breeding seasons, and sampled them for commonly used condition indices: mass adjusted for body size, muscle and fat scores, packed cell volume, hemoglobin concentration, total plasma protein, and heterophil to lymphocyte ratio. Our study population is well suited for this research because individuals forage in common areas and do not hold territories such that variation in condition between individuals is not confounded by differences in habitat quality. Furthermore, we controlled for factors that are known to impact condition indices in our study population (e.g., breeding stage) such that we assessed individual condition relative to others in the same context. Condition indices that reflect energy reserves predicted both the probability of an individual fledging young and the number of young produced that survived to independence, but only during some years. Those that were relatively heavy for their body size produced about three times more independent young compared to light individuals. That energy reserves are a meaningful predictor of reproductive success in a sedentary passerine supports the idea that energy reserves are at least sometimes predictors of fitness. However, hematological indices failed to predict reproductive success and none of the indices predicted survival. Therefore, some but not all condition indices may be informative, but because we found that most indices did not predict any component of fitness, we question the ubiquitous interpretation of condition indices as surrogates for individual quality and fitness.

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