The colour of an avifauna: a quantitative analysis of the colour of Australian birds

Johann Delhey

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Animal coloration is a poorly-understood aspect of phenotypic variability. Here I expand initial studies of the colour gamut of birds by providing the first quantitative description of the colour variation of an entire avifauna: Australian landbirds (555 species). The colour of Australian birds occupies a small fraction (19%) of the entire possible colour space and colour variation is extremely uneven. Most colours are unsaturated, concentrated in the centre of colour space and based on the deposition of melanins. Other mechanisms of colour production are less common but account for larger portions of colour space and for most saturated colours. Male colours occupy 45-25% more colour space than female colours, indicating that sexual dichromatism translates into a broader range of male colours. Male-exclusive colours are often saturated, at the edge of chromatic space, and have most likely evolved for signalling. While most clades of birds occupy expected or lower-than-expected colour volumes, parrots and cockatoos (Order Psittaciformes) occupy a much larger volume than expected. This uneven distribution of colour variation across mechanisms of colour production, sexes and clades is probably shared by avifaunas in other parts of the world, but this remains to be tested with comparable data.
Original languageEnglish
Article number18514
Number of pages12
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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