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In wild birds, the proximate and ultimate factors that affect circulating carotenoid concentrations remain poorly understood. We studied variation in plasma carotenoid concentrations across several scales: annual, seasonal, pair, territory and individual, and evaluated whether plasma carotenoid concentrations explained reproductive outcome of wild American kestrels (Falco sparverius). We sampled plasma carotenoid concentrations of 99 female and 80 male incubating kestrels from April to June in 2008 to 2012. Plasma carotenoid concentrations were explained by an interaction between year and sex, date, and random effects for pair and individual identity. In general, plasma carotenoid concentrations of males were significantly higher than females, but this depended on year. Within a breeding season, earlier nesting kestrels had higher carotenoid concentrations than later nesting kestrels, a pattern that is coincident with seasonal trends in local fitness. Pair and individual identity explained variation in carotenoid concentrations suggesting that carotenoid concentrations of mated birds were correlated, and some individuals consistently maintained higher carotenoid levels than others. Male carotenoid concentrations were positively associated with number of young fledged per pair. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that higher quality individuals have higher carotenoid levels compared to lower quality individuals, despite annual variations in carotenoid availability.

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This is an author-produced, peer-reviewed version of this article. The final, definitive version of this document can be found online at Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. on behalf of the Linnean Society of London. Copyright restrictions may apply. doi: 10.1111/bij.12653

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