While eating has substantial benefits in terms of both nutrient and energy acquisition, there are physiological costs associated with digesting and metabolizing a meal. Frequently, these costs have been documented in the context of energy expenditure while other physiological costs have been relatively unexplored. Here, we tested whether the seemingly innocuous act of eating affects either systemic pro-oxidant (reactive oxygen metabolite, ROM) levels or antioxidant capacity of corn snakes (Pantherophis guttatus) by collecting plasma during absorptive (peak increase in metabolic rate due to digestion of a meal) and non-absorptive (baseline) states. When individuals were digesting a meal, there was a minimal increase in antioxidant capacity relative to baseline (4%), but a substantial increase in ROMs (nearly 155%), even when controlling for circulating nutrient levels. We report an oxidative cost of eating that is much greater than that due to long distance flight or mounting an immune response in other taxa. This result demonstrates the importance of investigating non-energetic costs associated with meal processing, and it begs future work to identify the mechanism(s) driving this increase in ROM levels. Because energetic costs associated with eating are taxonomically widespread, identifying the taxonomic breadth of eating-induced ROM increases may provide insights into the interplay between oxidative damage and life history theory.
Butler MW, TJ Lutz, HB Fokidis, and ZR Stahlschmidt. 2016. Eating increases oxidative damage in a reptile. Journal of Experimental Biology 219: 1969-1973.
Journal of Experimental Biology