Body condition and poxvirus infection predict circulating glucose levels in a colorful songbird that inhabits urban and rural environments

Kevin J. McGraw, Katherine Chou, Annika Bridge, Hannah C. McGraw, Peyton R. McGraw, Richard K. Simpson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


There is widespread contemporary interest in causes and consequences of blood glucose status in humans (e.g., links to diabetes and cardiovascular disease), but we know comparatively less about what underlies variation in glucose levels of wild animals. Several environmental factors, including diet, disease status, and habitat quality, may regulate glucose circulation, and we are in need of work that assesses many organismal traits simultaneously to understand the plasticity and predictability of glucose levels in ecological and evolutionary contexts. Here, we measured circulating glucose levels in a species of passerine bird (the house finch, Haemorhous mexicanus) that has served as a valuable model for research on sexual selection, disease, and urban behavioral ecology, as these animals display sexually dichromatic ornamental coloration, harbor many infectious diseases (e.g., poxvirus, coccidiosis, mycoplasmal conjunctivitis), and reside in both natural habitats and cities. We tested the effects of sex, habitat type, body condition, coccidiosis and poxvirus infections, and expression of carotenoid plumage coloration on blood glucose concentrations and found that the body condition and poxvirus infection significantly predicted circulating glucose levels. Specifically, birds with higher blood glucose levels had higher body condition scores and were infected with poxvirus. This result is consistent with biomedical, domesticated-animal, and wildlife-rehabilitation findings, and the premise that glucose elevation is a physiological response to or indicator of infection and relative body weight. The fact that we failed to find links between glucose and our other measurements suggests that blood glucose levels can reveal some but not all aspects of organismal or environmental quality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)561-568
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological and Integrative Physiology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020


  • Haemorhous mexicanus
  • blood sugar
  • disease
  • house finch
  • wildlife health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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