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Male and female American goldfinches (Spinus tristis) express condition-dependent carotenoid-based plumage and bill coloration. Plumage color is relatively static, as pigments incorporated into feathers during the spring molt cannot be mobilized thereafter. In contrast, bill color is dynamic, reflecting changes in condition over short time periods. Previous studies have shown that male and female ornaments, though similar in expression, are differentially related to measures of immunocompetence, suggesting that the relationship between ornamentation and parasite infection may differ between the sexes. In this study, we evaluate the relationship between condition-dependent ornamentation (plumage and bill color) and blood parasite infection in male and female American goldfinches. We captured goldfinches after completion of the pre-alternate molt and prior to the onset of nesting and assessed prevalence of Trypanosoma parasites via blood smears. Plumage color strongly predicted trypanosome infection: Birds with more colorful plumage were less likely to present infections. In contrast, we detected no relationship between infection and bill color, which in other studies has been shown to dynamically reflect current condition. Sex did not affect the relationship between infection status and either ornament. Together, these results suggest that physiological pathways linking carotenoid ornamentation and infection may vary even within a single species.




John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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Ecology and Evolution

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