Sperm of colourful males are better protected against oxidative stress

Helfenstein, Fabrice; Losdat, Sylvaine; Moller, Anders Pappe; Blount, Jonathan D.; Richner, Heinz (2010). Sperm of colourful males are better protected against oxidative stress. Ecology Letters, 13(2), pp. 213-222. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2009.01419.x

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Sperm cells are highly vulnerable to free radicals, and sperm quality and male fertility are critically affected by oxidative stress. Recently, sexual ornaments, particularly carotenoid-based colourful traits, have been proposed to depend on a male's capacity to resist oxidative stress, and thus to signal sperm quality. We conducted an experimental test of this hypothesis on great tits Parus major, in which adults are sexually dichromatic in carotenoid-based breast plumage. We report the first evidence that ornaments and sperm quality may be linked through oxidative stress. When experimentally subjected to oxidative stress resulting from increased workload, less colourful males suffered a greater reduction in sperm motility and swimming ability, and increased levels of sperm lipid peroxidation compared to more colourful males. Moreover, the level of sperm lipid peroxidation was negatively correlated with sperm quality. Finally, carotenoid supplementation increased sperm quality of less colourful males, suggesting that pale males are deficient in carotenoid antioxidants.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Ecology and Evolution (IEE) > Evolutionary Ecology

UniBE Contributor:

Richner, Heinz






Wiley-Blackwell Publishing


Factscience Import

Date Deposited:

04 Oct 2013 14:17

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:04

Publisher DOI:


Web of Science ID:



https://boris.unibe.ch/id/eprint/5231 (FactScience: 209961)

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