Carotenoid-based plumage coloration predicts resistance to a novel parasite in the house finch
The Hamilton-Zuk hypothesis proposes that the bright colours displayed by many species of birds serve as signals of individual resistance to parasites. Despite the popularity of this hypothesis, only one previous study has tested whether plumage coloration predicts how individuals respond to a disease challenge. We inoculated 24 male house finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) of variable plumage hue with a novel bacterial pathogen, Mycoplasma gallicepticum (MG). We found no relationship between plumage hue and time to first symptoms following inoculation, but we found a significant negative relationship between plumage hue and clearance of disease: males with redder plumage cleared MG infection significantly better than did males with yellower plumage. The hue of carotenoid-based plumage coloration has been shown to be a primary criterion in female mate choice in the house finch. These observations suggest that one benefit to females for choosing redder males is obtaining mates with better resistance to parasites.