Willow R. Lindsay, Christopher R. Friesen, Carina Sihlbom, Jörgen Bergström, Evelin Berger, Mark R. Wilson, and Mats Olsson
Vitellogenesis (“yolking” of follicles) is a bioenergetically costly stage of reproduction requiring enlargement of the liver to produce vitellogenin (VTG) yolk precursor proteins, which are transported and deposited at the ovary. VTG may, however, serve non-nutritive antioxidant functions, a hypothesis supported by empirical work on aging and other life-history transitions in several taxa. We test this hypothesis in female painted dragon lizards (Ctenophorus pictus) by examining covariation in VTG with the ovarian cycle, and relative to reactive oxygen species (ROS) including baseline superoxide (bSO). Plasma VTG decreased prior to ovulation, when VTG is deposited into follicles. VTG, however, remained elevated post-ovulation when no longer necessary for yolk provisioning and was unrelated to reproductive investment. Instead, VTG was strongly and positively predicted by prior bSO. ROS, in turn, was negatively predicted by prior VTG, while simultaneously sampled VTG was a positive predictor. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that VTG functions as an antioxidant to counteract oxidative stress associated with vitellogenesis. The relationship between bSO and VTG was strongest in post-ovulatory females, indicating its function may be largely antioxidant at this time. In conclusion, VTG may be under selection to offset oxidative costs of reproduction in egg-producing species.