The role of oxidative stress as an underlying mechanism in life-history trade-offs

Smith, Shona Mary (2016) The role of oxidative stress as an underlying mechanism in life-history trade-offs. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Full text available as:
[thumbnail of 2016smithphd.pdf] PDF
Download (3MB)
Printed Thesis Information:


A key aspect underpinning life-history theory is the existence of trade-offs. Trade-offs occur because resources are limited, meaning that individuals cannot invest in all traits simultaneously, leading to costs for traits such as growth and reproduction. Such costs may be the reason for the sub-maximal growth rates that are often observed in nature, though the fitness consequences of these costs would depend on the effects on lifetime reproductive success. Recently, much attention has been given to the physiological mechanism that might underlie these life-history trade-offs, with oxidative stress (OS) playing a key role. OS is characterised by a build-up of oxidative damage to tissues (e.g. protein, lipids and DNA) from attack by reactive species (RS). RS, the majority of which are by-products of metabolism, are usually neutralised by antioxidants, however OS occurs when there is an imbalance between the two. There are two main theories linking OS with growth and reproduction. The first is that traits like growth and reproduction, being metabolically demanding, lead to an increase in RS production. The second involves the diversion of resources away from self-maintenance processes (e.g. the redox system) when individuals are faced with enhanced growth or reproductive expenditure.

Previous research investigating trade-offs involving growth or reproduction and self-maintenance has been equivocal. One reason for this could be that associations among redox biomarkers can vary greatly so that the biomarker selected for analysis can influence the conclusion reached about an individual’s oxidative status. Therefore the first aim of my thesis was to explore the strength and pattern of integration of five biomarkers of OS (three antioxidants, one damage and one general oxidation measure) in wild blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) adults and nestlings (Chapter 2). In doing so, I established that all five biomarkers should be included in future analyses, thus using this collection of biomarkers I explored my next aims; whether enhanced growth (Chapters 3 and 4) or reproductive effort (Chapter 5) can lead to increased OS levels, if these traits are traded off against self-maintenance. I accomplished these aims using both a meta-analytic and experimental approach, the latter involving manipulation of brood size in wild blue tits in order to experimentally alter growth rate of nestlings and provisioning rate (a proxy for reproductive expenditure) of adults. I also investigated the potential for redox integration to be used as an index of body condition (Chapter 2), allowing predictions about future fitness consequences of changes to oxidative state to be made.

A growth – self-maintenance trade off was supported by my meta-analytic results (Chapter 4) which found OS to be a constraint on growth. However, when faced with experimentally enhanced growth, animals were typically not able to adjust this trade-off so that oxidative damage resulted. This might support the idea that energetically expensive growth causes resources to be diverted away from the redox system; however, antioxidants did not show an overall reduction in response to growth in the meta-analysis suggesting that oxidative costs of growth may result from increased RS production due to the greater metabolism needed for enhanced growth. My experimental data (Chapter 3) showed a similar pattern, with raised protein damage levels (protein carbonyls; PCs) in the fastest growing blue tit chicks in a brood, compared with their slower growing sibs. These within-brood differences in OS levels likely resulted from within-brood hierarchies and might have masked any between-brood differences, which were not observed here.

Despite evidence for a growth – self-maintenance trade off, my experimental results on blue tits found no support for the hypothesis that self-maintenance is also traded off against reproduction, another energetically demanding trait. There was no link between experimentally altered reproductive expenditure and OS, nor was there a direct correlation between reproductive effort and OS (Chapter 5). However, there are various factors that likely influence whether oxidative costs are observed, including environmental conditions and whether such costs are transient. This emphasises the need for longitudinal studies following the same individuals over multiple years and across a wide range of habitats that differ in quality. This would allow investigation into how key life events interact; it might be that raised OS levels from rapid early growth have the potential to constrain reproduction or that high parental OS levels constrain offspring growth. Any oxidative costs resulting from these life-history trade-offs have the potential to impact on future fitness. Redox integration of certain biomarkers might prove to be a useful tool in making predictions about fitness, as I found in Chapter 2, as well as establishing how the redox system responds, as a whole, to changes to growth and reproduction. Finally, if the tissues measured can tolerate a given level of OS, then the level of oxidative damage might be irrelevant and not impact on future fitness at all.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information:
Error parsing XML in render_xhtml_field: :1: parser error : EntityRef: expecting ';'
gment>A version of Chapter 4 has been published as Smith, S.M., Nager, R.G. &amp
Keywords: Antioxidants, enzymes, growth rate, life- history theory, oxidative damage, oxidative stress, reactive oxygen species, reproduction, trade-offs.
Subjects: Q Science > QP Physiology
Colleges/Schools: College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Biodiversity Animal Health and Comparative Medicine
Funder's Name: Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
Supervisor's Name: Nager, Dr. Ruedi, Metcalfe, Prof. Neil and Costantini, Dr. David
Date of Award: 2016
Depositing User: Mrs Shona Mary Smith
Unique ID: glathesis:2016-7684
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 26 Oct 2016 15:17
Last Modified: 24 Nov 2016 08:46
Related URLs:

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year