Antioxidant status in relation to age, condition, reproductive performance and pollution in three passerine species

Åsa M. M. Berglund, Miia J. Rainio, Mirella Kanerva, Mikko Nikinmaa, Tapio Eeva

Published online: 
28 January 2014

Oxidative stress has been suggested as a mediator in life-history trade-off. By spending more resources on for example reproduction an organism might sacrifice its antioxidant defence. So far, most conclusions on trade-offs between life-history traits and oxidative stress have been drawn from laboratory studies using a few model species and there is a need for studies conducted in natural settings. We investigated associations between markers for antioxidant status (antioxidant enzyme activities and antioxidant levels), body condition, age and reproduction in three species of wild-living passerines. The impact from an anthropogenic stressor (metal pollution) was also assessed. The three bird species showed interspecific variation in their SOD and CAT activities, indicating different pathways to eliminate radicals. The age of females affected both antioxidant status and the breeding performance, indicating the importance of age as a factor in life-history studies. Old birds had lower levels of antioxidants/antioxidant enzyme activities and they produced larger broods/more successful broods, though the latter might be confounded by surviving females having increased fitness. Metal exposure had a negative impact on breeding, and improved breeding outcome was also associated with increased antioxidant defence, but metal exposure was not directly related to the oxidative status of birds, emphasizing that additional stressors might independently affect the same traits. Our results highlight that caution has to be taken when generalizing and extrapolating results to even closely related species. The results support the idea that there is a cost of reproduction, in terms of increased resources spent on antioxidant defence, though this should be confirmed with experimental studies.