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The brilliant iridescent plumage of birds creates some of the most stunning color displays known in the natural world. Iridescent plumage colors are produced by nanostructures in feathers and have evolved in diverse birds. The building blocks of these structures—melanosomes (melanin-filled organelles)—come in a variety of forms, yet how these different forms contribute to color production across birds remains unclear. Here, we leverage evolutionary analyses, optical simulations, and reflectance spectrophotometry to uncover general principles that govern the production of brilliant iridescence. We find that a key feature that unites all melanosome forms in brilliant iridescent structures is thin melanin layers. Birds have achieved this in multiple ways: by decreasing the size of the melanosome directly, by hollowing out the interior, or by flattening the melanosome into a platelet. The evolution of thin melanin layers unlocks color-producing possibilities, more than doubling the range of colors that can be produced with a thick melanin layer and simultaneously increasing brightness. We discuss the implications of these findings for the evolution of iridescent structures in birds and propose two evolutionary paths to brilliant iridescence.
vonHoldt, Bridgett (Ed.)Abstract The colorful phenotypes of birds have long provided rich source material for evolutionary biologists. Avian plumage, beaks, skin, and eggs—which exhibit a stunning range of cryptic and conspicuous forms—inspired early work on adaptive coloration. More recently, avian color has fueled discoveries on the physiological, developmental, and—increasingly—genetic mechanisms responsible for phenotypic variation. The relative ease with which avian color traits can be quantified has made birds an attractive system for uncovering links between phenotype and genotype. Accordingly, the field of avian coloration genetics is burgeoning. In this review, we highlight recent advances and emerging questions associated with the genetic underpinnings of bird color. We start by describing breakthroughs related to 2 pigment classes: carotenoids that produce red, yellow, and orange in most birds and psittacofulvins that produce similar colors in parrots. We then discuss structural colors, which are produced by the interaction of light with nanoscale materials and greatly extend the plumage palette. Structural color genetics remain understudied—but this paradigm is changing. We next explore how colors that arise from interactions among pigmentary and structural mechanisms may be controlled by genes that are co-expressed or co-regulated. We also identify opportunities to investigate genes mediating within-feather micropatterning and the coloration ofmore »
Synopsis Animal communication is inherently spatial. Both signal transmission and signal reception have spatial biases—involving direction, distance, and position—that interact to determine signaling efficacy. Signals, be they visual, acoustic, or chemical, are often highly directional. Likewise, receivers may only be able to detect signals if they arrive from certain directions. Alignment between these directional biases is therefore critical for effective communication, with even slight misalignments disrupting perception of signaled information. In addition, signals often degrade as they travel from signaler to receiver, and environmental conditions that impact transmission can vary over even small spatiotemporal scales. Thus, how animals position themselves during communication is likely to be under strong selection. Despite this, our knowledge regarding the spatial arrangements of signalers and receivers during communication remains surprisingly coarse for most systems. We know even less about how signaler and receiver behaviors contribute to effective signaling alignment over time, or how signals themselves may have evolved to influence and/or respond to these aspects of animal communication. Here, we first describe why researchers should adopt a more explicitly geometric view of animal signaling, including issues of location, direction, and distance. We then describe how environmental and social influences introduce further complexities to the geometrymore »