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Not so colourful after all: eggshell pigments constrain avian eggshell colour space

Not so colourful after all: eggshell pigments constrain avian eggshell colour space

Biology Letters 11(5): 20150087

Birds' eggshells are renowned for their striking colours and varied patterns. Although often considered exceptionally diverse, we report that avian eggshell coloration, sampled here across the full phylogenetic diversity of birds, occupies only 0.08-0.10% of the avian perceivable colour space. The concentrations of the two known tetrapyrrole eggshell pigments (protoporphyrin and biliverdin) are generally poor predictors of colour, both intra- and interspecifically. Here, we show that the constrained diversity of eggshell coloration can be accurately predicted by colour mixing models based on the relative contribution of both pigments and we demonstrate that the models' predictions can be improved by accounting for the reflectance of the eggshell's calcium carbonate matrix. The establishment of these proximate links between pigmentation and colour will enable future tests of hypotheses on the functions of perceived avian eggshell colours that depend on eggshell chemistry. More generally, colour mixing models are not limited to avian eggshell colours but apply to any natural colour. Our approach illustrates how modelling can aid the understanding of constraints on phenotypic diversity.

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Accession: 058427857

Download citation: RISBibTeXText

PMID: 25994009

DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2015.0087

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