Serum antioxidant levels in wild birds vary in relation to diet, season, life history strategy, and species

Alan A. Cohen, Kevin McGraw, W. Douglas Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


Micronutrient antioxidants are thought to be generally important for health in many animals, but factors determining levels in individuals and species are not well understood. Diet and season are obvious environmental variables that might predict the degree to which species can accumulate such nutrients. We analyzed antioxidant levels [Trolox-equivalent antioxidant capacity (TEAC), uric acid (UA), vitamin E, and four carotenoids] in 95 bird species and compared these to species-level data on diet from the literature. Using compositional principal components analysis, we identified two main axes of diet variation: invertebrate consumption and seed-to-fruit ratio. We then examined associations between diet axes and antioxidant measures, with and without control for life-history variation and phylogeny. We also analyzed a subset of 13 species for which we had data on seasonality of antioxidant levels and diet, assessing the variance in antioxidant levels explained by seasonality, diet, and species. Unsurprisingly, there were strong associations between antioxidant levels and diet. TEAC and UA concentration were consistently positively associated with invertebrate consumption and seed-to-fruit ratio, and carotenoid concentrations (e.g. zeaxanthin and β-carotene) were negatively associated with invertebrate consumption. However, vitamin E was not associated with diet as measured here. Importantly, there is much variation in antioxidants that is not explained by diet, and we are able to identify diet-independent effects of species, season/breeding stage, and life history on antioxidant levels. Circulating antioxidant concentrations within and across species can therefore be viewed as a function of multiple factors, including but not limited to diet, and antioxidant metabolism appears to differ across species and seasons irrespective of diet.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)673-683
Number of pages11
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 2009


  • Carotenoid
  • Fruit
  • Insect
  • Seed
  • Uric acid
  • Vitamin E

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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