Morph- and sex-specific effects of challenging conditions on maintenance parameters in the Gouldian finch [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Rita Fragueira, Simon Verhulst, and Michaël Beaulieu

Intraspecific discrete polymorphism is associated with the use of alternative life-history strategies, reflected by distinct reproductive or copying strategies in individuals of different morphs. Yet, morph-specific costs and benefits related to different life-history strategies remain unclear. Here, we examined in the polymorphic Gouldian finch (Erythrura gouldiae) whether markers of somatic maintenance (body mass, oxidative status, telomere length) differed between red- and black-headed birds under energetically-demanding conditions (during heatwaves of different intensity, and during moult or breeding following heatwaves). During heatwaves, red-headed birds showed a homogeneous response, as males and females initially tended to gain mass and reduced plasma hydroperoxide levels (a marker of oxidative damage) irrespective of heatwave intensity. In contrast, black-headed birds showed a stronger and more heterogeneous response, as black-headed males gained mass at the beginning of the thermoneutral heatwave and showed stable oxidative status, while black-headed females lost mass and tended to show higher hydroperoxide levels at the end of the thermocritical heatwave. Following heatwaves, we found morph-specific oxidative costs due to moult or reproduction, with oxidative markers varying only in black-headed birds. Again, oxidative markers varied differently in black-headed males and females, as plasma antioxidant capacity decreased in moulting or breeding females, while males showed higher hydroperoxide levels with larger broods. For the first time, our study highlights that within polymorphic species, some individuals appear more vulnerable than others when coping with energetically-demanding conditions. In the context of climate change, such differential effects may ultimately alter the currently-observed balance between morphs and sexes within natural populations.

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