Oil pollution increases plasma antioxidants but reduces coloration in a seabird

Pérez, C., Lores, M. & Velando, A. Oil pollution increases plasma antioxidants but reduces coloration in a seabird. Oecologia 163, 875–884 (2010).


It has been suggested that condition-dependent signals may be a useful measure of environmental quality. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that oil pollution enhances oxidative stress and impairs expression of a carotenoid-based signal in a wild population of the yellowlegged gull (Larus michahellis). During the courtship period, a group of gulls were fed a supplementary diet containing heavy fuel oil from the Prestige oil spill and were compared with control gulls fed a similar supplementary diet without fuel oil. Blood levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, the most toxic components of crude oils, were higher (30%) in the Prestige oil-fed gulls than in the control gulls. Plasma concentrations of vitamin E and carotenoids were also significantly higher in the Prestige oil-fed gulls (31 and 27%, respectively). Although, the plasma levels of lipid peroxidation markers were higher (13%) in gulls fed with Prestige oil than in the control gulls, these differences were not significant, possibly because of the small number of gulls analyzed. The red bill spot was significantly smaller (16%) in the oil-fed gulls than in the control individuals. This study provides the first experimental evidence that a carotenoid-based signal in a freeliving seabird is affected by exposure to oil pollution and is hence indicative of environmental quality. Since the yellow-legged gull belongs to a complex of species widely distributed throughout the northern hemisphere, the method described may constitute a useful tool for evaluating sublethal effects of oil spills in seabirds.

Availability of nonpigmentary antioxidant affects red coloration in gulls

Pérez, C., Lores, M. & Velando, A. Availability of nonpigmentary antioxidant affects red coloration in gulls. Behavioral Ecology 19, 967–973 (2008).


Red, orange, and yellow carotenoid-based colorations displayed by fishes and birds may function as honest sexual signals of the bearer’s quality. However, the mechanisms underlying the expression of these traits and the information they convey are still controversial. Because carotenoids are antioxidants and carotenoid-based pigmentation is bleached as a consequence of oxidative processes, it has been suggested that the pigmentation may signal antioxidant status. We tested this hypothesis in the yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis), a seabird that exhibits a carotenoid-based red spot on the lower mandible. The availability of a nonpigmentary antioxidant (i.e., vitamin E) to the gulls was modified before egg laying by means of a supplementary feeding experiment. During the incubation period, breeding pairs were captured to assess the intensity of the color and the size of the red bill spots. We measured the plasma level of lipid peroxidation, total antioxidant capacity, and carotenoids. We found that males that received vitamin E supplements had larger red spot than control birds but that color intensity was not affected by the supplements. Moreover, we found that only those plasma carotenoids involved in the red coloration were affected by the antioxidant supplementation, suggesting an active mechanism to increase red coloration. Overall, our results provide experimental evidence for the hypothesis that carotenoid-based coloration reflects the bearer’s antioxidant status in male gulls.