Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Birds of a feather display only a fraction of possible colors

Date:
June 22, 2011
Source:
University of Cambridge
Summary:
Contrary to our human perception of bird coloration as extraordinarily diverse, a new study reports that bird plumages exhibit only a small fraction (less than a third) of the possible colors birds can observe.

Male peacock. Contrary to our human perception of bird coloration as extraordinarily diverse, a new study reports that bird plumages exhibit only a small fraction (less than a third) of the possible colours birds can observe.
Credit: © Eric Gevaert / Fotolia

Contrary to our human perception of bird coloration as extraordinarily diverse, a new study reports that bird plumages exhibit only a small fraction (less than a third) of the possible colours birds can observe.

Early lineages of living birds probably produced an even smaller range of colours, but the evolution of innovative pigments and structural (or optical) colours has allowed many birds to create more diverse and colourful plumages over time.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge and Yale University applied a mathematical model of bird vision to estimate the full range -- or gamut -- of avian plumage coloration and to explore how feather colours changed over the course of evolution.

Mary Caswell Stoddard of the University of Cambridge's Department of Zoology explained: "Birds are among the most colourful organisms on the planet. To our human eyes, birds seem to possess almost every colour imaginable -- but birds see the world very differently than we do."

Birds have an additional colour cone in their retinas that is sensitive to ultraviolet light, which allows them to see many colours invisible to humans.

Stoddard and co-author Richard Prum of Yale University measured hundreds of plumage colours and analyzed them in a tetrachromatic colour space, which combines raw information about the light feathers reflect with details about the colours birds can see. They found that bird plumage colours fall far short of filling the colour space, leaving vast regions unoccupied.

"Just as a newspaper can only print a fraction of the colours we humans can see, bird feathers can only produce a subset of colours that are theoretically visible to other birds," said Stoddard. "The intriguing part is thinking about why plumage colours are confined to this subset. Out-of-gamut colours may be impossible to make with available mechanisms, or they may be disadvantageous."

Over evolutionary time, novel coloration mechanisms have evolved in different groups of birds, allowing their plumages to become more colourful.

Prum stated: "Evolutionary innovations in the form of new pigments and structural colours enabled birds to colonize new areas of avian colour space. In the same way, human clothing was pretty drab before the invention of aniline dyes like mauve, but chemical inventions allowed clothing to become more diverse in colour. Our study documents the history of mechanistic constraints on bird colour diversity."

Bird plumages may only represent a fraction of bird-visible colours, but how colourful are they compared to other objects in the natural world? For comparison, the researchers analyzed an extensive set of flower colours as seen by birds. They determined that bird feather colours rival the diversity of plant coloration and have achieved some striking colours unattainable by flowers.

"To explore the limits and possibilities of bird coloration is a thrilling venture, and we have much yet to discover," said Stoddard.

Their findings are reported June 22 in the journal Behavioral Ecology.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Cambridge. The original story is licensed under a Creative Commons license. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. M. C. Stoddard, R. O. Prum. How colorful are birds? Evolution of the avian plumage color gamut. Behavioral Ecology, 2011; DOI: 10.1093/beheco/arr088

Cite This Page:

University of Cambridge. "Birds of a feather display only a fraction of possible colors." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 June 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110622224504.htm>.
University of Cambridge. (2011, June 22). Birds of a feather display only a fraction of possible colors. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110622224504.htm
University of Cambridge. "Birds of a feather display only a fraction of possible colors." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110622224504.htm (accessed July 22, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

San Diego Zoo Welcomes New, Rare Rhino Calf

San Diego Zoo Welcomes New, Rare Rhino Calf

Reuters - US Online Video (July 21, 2014) — An endangered black rhino baby is the newest resident at the San Diego Zoo. Sasha Salama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shark Sightings a Big Catch for Cape Tourism

Shark Sightings a Big Catch for Cape Tourism

AP (July 21, 2014) — A rise in shark sightings along the shores of Chatham, Massachusetts is driving a surge of eager vacationers to the beach town looking to catch a glimpse of a great white. (July 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
$23.6 Billion Awarded To Widow In Smoking Lawsuit

$23.6 Billion Awarded To Widow In Smoking Lawsuit

Newsy (July 20, 2014) — Cynthia Robinson claims R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company hid the health and addiction risks of its products, leading to the death of her husband in 1996. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
A Centuries' Old British Tradition Is Far from a Swan Song

A Centuries' Old British Tradition Is Far from a Swan Song

AFP (July 19, 2014) — As if it weren't enough that the Queen is the Sovereign of the UK and 15 other Commonwealth realms, she is also the owner of all Britain's unmarked swans. Duration: 02:18 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins