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Data from: Carotenoid coloration is related to fat digestion efficiency in a wild bird

Cite this dataset

Madonia, Christina; Hutton, Pierce; Giraudeau, Mathieu; Sepp, Tuul (2018). Data from: Carotenoid coloration is related to fat digestion efficiency in a wild bird [Dataset]. Dryad.


Some of the most spectacular visual signals found in the animal kingdom are based on dietarily derived carotenoid pigments (which cannot be produced de novo), with a general assumption that carotenoids are limited resources for wild organisms, causing trade-offs in allocation of carotenoids to different physiological functions and ornamentation. This resource trade-off view has been recently questioned, since the efficiency of carotenoid processing may relax the trade-off between allocation toward condition or ornamentation. This hypothesis has so far received little exploratory support, since studies of digestive efficiency of wild animals are limited due to methodological difficulties. Recently, a method for quantifying the percentage of fat in fecal samples to measure digestive efficiency has been developed in birds. Here, we use this method to test if the intensity of the carotenoid-based coloration predicts digestive efficiency in a wild bird, the house finch (Haemorhous mexicanus). The redness of carotenoid feather coloration (hue) positively predicted digestion efficiency, with redder birds being more efficient at absorbing fats from seeds. We show for the first time in a wild species that digestive efficiency predicts ornamental coloration. Though not conclusive due to the correlative nature of our study, these results strongly suggest that fat extraction might be a crucial but overlooked process behind many ornamental traits.

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