Effects of food limitation on the intensity of blue-green and brown eggshell coloration: an experimental study with the canary

Hargitai, Rita; Boross, Nóra; Nyiri, Zoltán; Eke, Zsuzsanna

8 September 2017

Variation in blue-green and brown coloration of avian eggshells could be affected by several factors, including environmental nutritional constraints. Better availability of nutrients could influence the synthesis and deposition of pigments into the eggshell, so we may expect a link between the food availability during egg formation, the body condition of the female and intensity of eggshell coloration. This hypothesis has received mixed support so far: in some bird species a positive correlation between female body condition and eggshell blue-green coloration could be demonstrated, but other studies failed to find a significant link. In this study, we experimentally limited the food availability for domestic canaries (Serinus canaria) prior to and during egg laying, and examined its effects on the biliverdin- and protoporphyrin-based eggshell coloration. Treatment had no significant effect on eggshell blue-green chroma and biliverdin concentration. However, we found a significant positive relationship between female body condition and eggshell background blue-green chroma in the control group, but not in the food restricted group. Females possibly experiencing a decline in antioxidant capacity due to food limitation may not be able to produce a blue-green eggshell colour intensity reliably indicating their body condition. Furthermore, food-restricted canary females laid eggs with significantly higher eggshell brown chroma, spot intensity, and protoporphyrin concentration. Therefore, our results suggest that limitation in actual nutrient availability increases deposition of protoporphyrin into the eggshell, and it may also modify the association between female body condition and intensity of blue-green eggshell coloration.