Assessing the cost of helping: The roles of body condition and oxidative balance in the Seychelles warbler (Acrocephalus sechellensis)

Janske van de Crommenacker, Jan Komdeur, David S. Richardson

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49 Citations (Scopus)


In cooperatively breeding species, helping close relatives may provide important fitness benefits. However, helping can be energetically expensive and may result in increased generation of reactive oxygen species. Consequently, an oxidant/antioxidant imbalance can lead to higher oxidative stress susceptibility. Given the potential costs of helping, it may be that only individuals with a sufficiently good body condition and/or stable oxidative balance can afford to help. Knowledge about relationships between social status and oxidative balance in cooperatively breeding systems is still limited. Studying these relationships is important for understanding the costs of helping and physiological pressures of reproduction. Here we evaluate the relationship between helping behaviour, body condition and oxidative balance in a wild population of the cooperatively breeding Seychelles warbler (Acrocephalus sechellensis). In this species, some subordinate individuals help dominant birds with the rearing of young, while others refrain from any assistance. We assessed body condition and oxidative parameters of birds of different social status caught during different breeding stages. We found that, prior to breeding, female subordinates that did not subsequently help (non-helpers) had significantly lower body condition and higher ROMs (reactive oxygen metabolites) than helpers and dominants. During the later stages of breeding, body condition was low in dominants and helpers, but high in non-helpers. Differences in oxidative balance between individuals of different social status were found only during nest care: Dominant males occupied with guarding behaviours tended to have relatively high oxidative stress susceptibility. Furthermore, dominant and helper females showed elevated antioxidant capacity (measured as OXY) in the weeks just prior to egg-laying, possibly representing a change in their reproductive physiology. The results imply that an individuals' oxidative balance may be influenced by factors related to reproduction, which can differ with sex and—within cooperative breeding systems—social status.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere26423
JournalPLoS One
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 27 Oct 2011

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