Testing the carotenoid trade-off hypothesis in the polychromatic midas cichlid, amphilophus citrinellus

Susan M. Lin, Katherine Nieves-Puigdoller, Alexandria C. Brown, Kevin McGraw, Ethan D. Clotfelter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Many animals use carotenoid pigments derived from their diet for coloration and immunity. The carotenoid trade-off hypothesis predicts that, under conditions of carotenoid scarcity, individuals may be forced to allocate limited carotenoids to either coloration or immunity. In polychromatic species, the pattern of allocation may differ among individuals. We tested the carotenoid trade-off hypothesis in the Midas cichlid, Amphilophus citrinellus, a species with two ontogenetic color morphs, barred and gold, the latter of which is the result of carotenoid expression. We performed a diet-supplementation experiment in which cichlids of both color morphs were assigned to one of two diet treatments that differed only in carotenoid content (β-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin).We measured integument color using spectrometry, quantified carotenoid concentrations in tissue and plasma, and assessed innate immunity using lysozyme activity and alternative complement pathway assays. In both color morphs, dietary carotenoid supplementation elevated plasma carotenoid circulation but failed to affect skin coloration. Consistent with observable differences in integument coloration, we found that gold fish sequestered more carotenoids in skin tissue than barred fish, but barred fish had higher concentrations of carotenoids in plasma than gold fish. Neither measure of innate immunity differed between gold and barred fish, or as a function of dietary carotenoid supplementation. Lysozyme activity, but not complement activity was strongly affected by body condition. Our data show that a diet low in carotenoids is sufficient to maintain both coloration and innate immunity in Midas cichlids. Ourdata also suggest that the developmental transition from the barred to gold morph is not accompanied by a decrease in innate immunity in this species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)333-342
Number of pages10
JournalPhysiological and Biochemical Zoology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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