The shared-pathway hypothesis offers a cellular explanation for the connection between ketocarotenoid pigmentation and individual quality. Under this hypothesis, ketocarotenoid metabolism shares cellular pathways with mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation such that red carotenoid-based coloration is inextricably linked mitochondrial function. To test this hypothesis, we exposed Tigriopus californicus copepods to a mitochondrially targeted protonophore, 2,4-dinitrophenol (DNP), to induce proton leak in the inner mitochondrial membranes. We then measured whole-animal metabolic rate and ketocarotenoid accumulation. As observed in prior studies of vertebrates, we observed that DNP treatment of copepods significantly increased respiration and that DNP-treated copepods accumulated more ketocarotenoid than control animals. Moreover, we observed a relationship between ketocarotenoid concentration and metabolic rate, and this association was strongest in DNP-treated copepods. These data support the hypothesis that ketocarotenoid and mitochondrial metabolism are biochemically intertwined. Moreover, these results corroborate observations in vertebrates, perhaps suggesting a fundamental connection between ketocarotenoid pigmentation and mitochondrial function that should be explored further.

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