Published 2007

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Publication details

Journal : Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Biological Sciences , vol. 274 , p. 1591–1596 , 2007

International Standard Numbers :
Printed : 0962-8452
Electronic : 1471-2954

Publication type : Academic article

Contributors : Pike, Thomas W.; Blount, Jonathan D.; Bjerkeng, Bjørn; Lindström, Jan; Metcalfe, Neil

Issue : 1618

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Kjetil Aune
Chief Librarian


Some of the most spectacular exaggerated sexual ornaments are carotenoid dependent. It has been suggested that such ornaments have evolved because carotenoid pigments are limiting for both signal expression and in their role as antioxidants and immunostimulants. An implicit assumption of this hypothesis is that males which can afford to produce more elaborate carotenoid-dependent displays are signalling their enhanced ability to resist parasites, disease or oxidative stress and hence would be predicted to live longer. Therefore, in species with carotenoid-dependent ornaments where a parent's future longevity is crucial for determining offspring survival, there should be a mating preference for partners that present the lowest risk of mortality during the breeding attempt, as signalled by the ability to allocate carotenoids to sexual displays. In an experimental study using three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus), we show that when dietary carotenoid intake is limited, males attempt to maintain their sexual ornament at the expense of body carotenoids and hence suffer from reduced reproductive investment and a shorter lifespan. These males also suffer from an increased susceptibility to oxidative stress, suggesting that this may constitute the mechanism underlying the increased rate of ageing. Furthermore, in pairwise mate-choice trials, females preferred males that had a greater access to carotenoids and chance of surviving the breeding season, suggesting that females can make adaptive mate choice decisions based on a male's carotenoid status and potential future longevity.