Energetic investment associated with vitellogenesis induces an oxidative cost of reproduction

Alison C. Webb, John B. Iverson, Charles R. Knapp, Dale Denardo, Susannah S. French

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Oxidative stress is a potential cost of reproduction, but conclusive evidence for this relationship is lacking. The goal of this study was to serially assess across a seasonal gradient the relationship between reproduction, circulating plasma energy metabolites and oxidative state. Here, we examine a study animal ideally suited to test for the oxidative costs of reproduction: the Allen Cays Rock Iguana. Female rock iguanas reproduce at varying frequencies, often skipping years, allowing for a comparison between reproductive and non-reproductive females during the same narrow, annual breeding season. This feature of iguana life history enabled us to address not just sex and seasonal differences in physiology, but also potential oxidative costs of reproduction in females. Male and female iguanas were sampled during the early (vitellogenic), late (gravid) and post-reproductive seasons. Ultrasound examinations were performed on females to quantify reproductive investment, and blood samples were collected for physiology assays, which included reactive oxygen metabolites (d-ROMs), antioxidants, triglycerides, free glycerol and glucose. The early reproductive season was characterized by significant increases in reproductive female's triglycerides, free glycerol and oxidative stress compared to late and post-reproductive periods and non-reproductive females and males during all sampling periods. Antioxidants were significantly elevated during the early reproductive season for reproductive females, non-reproductive females and males when compared to late and post-season. Follicle number in early reproductive females was positively related to d-ROMs, triglycerides and free glycerol, negatively related to antioxidants and showed no relationship with glucose. Measures of oxidative stress, d-ROMs and oxidative index were positively correlated with circulating levels of the lipid metabolite free glycerol during the early reproductive period, but this relationship weakened in the late season and disappeared in the post-season. Broadly, this study supports the hypothesis that the relationship between reproduction and oxidative stress is driven by energy investment, being greatest during early reproduction when vitellogenesis is occurring.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)461-472
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2019


  • antioxidants
  • free glycerol
  • reactive oxygen metabolites
  • reptile
  • triglycerides

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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