Woodpeckers and Parasites: Testing for correlations between immune function and carotenoid levels

Rhea, Ashleigh
Many physiological processes must take place in order for an immune response to be activated. Adequate nutrition providing all of the body's essential vitamins, minerals, pigments is a necessary component of normal health responses. Diet-based carotenoids have been linked with activating the body's immune response. What is unclear is whether the amount of carotenoids present, seen in the surface area of carotenoid-based plumage coloration, correlate with the intensity of parasitic infection. I am actively testing how the amount of carotenoid-based plumage coloration corresponds with the level of infection with avian malaria (Plasmodium spp. and Haemoproteus spp.) in Red-breasted sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus ruber). The findings of my study will help to emphasize the importance of nutritional status on population health and sexual selection.
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