Meta-analysis indicates that oxidative stress is both a constraint on and a cost of growth

Ecol Evol. 2016 Mar 21;6(9):2833-42. doi: 10.1002/ece3.2080. eCollection 2016 May.


Oxidative stress (OS) as a proximate mechanism for life-history trade-offs is widespread in the literature. One such resource allocation trade-off involves growth rate, and theory suggests that OS might act as both a constraint on and a cost of growth, yet studies investigating this have produced conflicting results. Here, we use meta-analysis to investigate whether increased OS levels impact on growth (OS as a constraint on growth) and whether greater growth rates can increase OS (OS as a cost of growth). The role of OS as a constraint on growth was supported by the meta-analysis. Greater OS, in terms of either increased damage or reduced levels of antioxidants, was associated with reduced growth although the effect depended on the experimental manipulation used. Our results also support an oxidative cost of growth, at least in terms of increased oxidative damage, although faster growth was not associated with a change in antioxidant levels. These findings that OS can act as a constraint on growth support theoretical links between OS and animal life histories and provide evidence for a growth-self-maintenance trade-off. Furthermore, the apparent oxidative costs of growth imply individuals cannot alter this trade-off when faced with enhanced growth. We offer a starting platform for future research and recommend the use of oxidative damage biomarkers in nonlethal tissue to investigate the growth-OS relationship further.

Keywords: Antioxidants; enzymes; growth rate; life‐history theory; oxidative damage; reactive oxygen species; trade‐offs.