Seasonal variation in diet quality: Antioxidants, invertebrates and blue tits Cyanistes caeruleus

Kathryn E. Arnold*, Scot L. Ramsay, Lindsay Henderson, Stephen D. Larcombe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Breeding success is often dictated by the degree to which parents can synchronize the maximum food requirements of offspring to the peak in abundance of invertebrate prey. Less studied is how the nutritional quality of individual diet items impacts on breeding. In the present study, we assessed the abundance and antioxidant concentrations of arboreal arthropods from oak woodland and provisioning behaviour of the blue tit Cyanistes caeruleus. Dietary antioxidants are important during development because they defend against oxidative stress. Operophtera caterpillars, Erannis caterpillars, and spiders contained significantly different levels of individual carotenoids and α-tocopherol. Concentrations of lutein and β-carotene in Operophtera caterpillars did not vary seasonally, although concentrations of zeaxanthin declined and α-tocopherol increased with date. Blue tit broods hatched later in the season received significantly fewer caterpillars and more spiders per chick compared to earlier broods. Reflecting changes in prey composition, blue tit nestling plasma showed decreases in zeaxanthin and increases in α-tocopherol with date. Thus, processes that shift the timing of breeding in birds and/or prey composition are likely to alter antioxidant intake and thus potentially influence the oxidative stress status of animals. The data obtained in the present study suggest a mechanism by which environmental change as a result of human activities could influence the health and fitness of individuals in natural populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)708-717
Number of pages10
JournalBiological journal of the linnean society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 4 Apr 2010


  • α-tocopherol
  • Carotenoids
  • Caterpillars
  • Neonatal nutrition
  • Oxidative stress
  • Spiders


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