A quantitative comparison of the commonly used methods for extracting carotenoids from avian plasma

Kevin McGraw, Elizabeth A. Tourville, Michael W. Butler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Interest in animal carotenoids, especially in birds, has exploded in recent years, and so too have the methods employed to investigate the nature and function of these pigments. Perhaps the most easily and commonly performed procedure in this work has been the determination of carotenoid concentration from avian plasma. Over the past 20 years of research on avian carotenoids, numerous methods have been used to extract carotenoids from bird plasma, all of which have differed in several important parameters (e.g., number and types of solvents used, degree of mixing/centrifugation). However, to date, no study has systematically compared these methods to determine if any of them are more effective than others for recovering any or all types of carotenoids present. We undertook such an investigation on plasma samples from two bird species (house finch, Carpodacus mexicanus, and mallard, Anas platyrhynchos) using five of the most commonly employed methods for extracting carotenoids from avian plasma: (1) acetone-only, (2) methanol-only, (3) ethanol-only, (4) ethanol + hexane, and (5) ethanol + tert butyl methyl ether. We also manipulated the amount of time that extracts were centrifuged, which has varied tremendously in previous studies, to evaluate its importance on carotenoid recovery. We found that all methods equally recovered the polar xanthophylls (lutein and zeaxanthin), but that the methanol-only procedure poorly recovered non-polar carotenoids (less β-carotene in both species and less β-cryptoxanthin in house finches) compared to the other methods. These results suggest that the data accumulated to date on xanthophyll plasma carotenoids in birds should be comparable across studies and species despite the different chemical extraction methods used. However, care should be taken to use relatively strong organic solvents for fully recovering non-polar carotenoids. We also found no effect of centrifugation duration (1 vs. 10 min at 10,000 rpm) on carotenoid recoveries, demonstrating that researchers can save considerable time by centrifuging for a much shorter time period than is typically used.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1991-2002
Number of pages12
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Oct 2008


  • Carotenoid pigments
  • Ethanol
  • HPLC
  • House finch
  • Lutein
  • Mallard
  • Methanol
  • Zeaxanthin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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