Melanin-based plumage ornaments may express individual quality in the context of social and sexual selection. Oxidative stress and antioxidant defences may be expressed through melanin-based plumage traits. Male Pied Flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca exhibit eumelanic dorsal plumage and white feather patches on forehead and wing feathers. Although these traits have been related to sexual selection in some populations, no physiological correlate of variation in these characters has been previously shown. Here we test if these plumage traits are related to plasma oxidative stress and antioxidant capacity. We captured males while feeding nestlings in a population breeding at high altitude (1200–1400 m) in central Spain and collected blood samples from brachial veins. Percentage black on dorsal plumage and extension of white on folded wing and forehead were obtained from digital photographs. Plasma samples were analysed in the laboratory to obtain lipid peroxidation as a measure of oxidative damage by quantifying malondialdehydes (MDA), and antioxidant capacity. When controlling for male mass, breeding date and brood size, only forehead patch size was negatively associated with plasma lipid peroxidation levels and positively related to antioxidant capacity. There was no association among different plumage traits. Thus forehead patch size in montane Iberian populations may signal male phenotypic quality through plasma oxidative stress and antioxidant capacity possibly due to altitudinal effects on oxidative stress.
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Vol. 46 • No. 1