Beautiful plumage: Feather color and sex start the species revolution

August 5, 2009

Faculty of 1000, the leading scientific evaluation service, has highlighted research providing evidence for the evolution of a new species.

Birds use plumage colour to recognize and select potential mates. A mutation of a single base can lead to a striking colour change, as demonstrated by two closely related flycatcher populations in the . According to a report in the American Naturalist -- selected and reviewed by Faculty of 1000 member Rebecca Kilner (University of Cambridge) along with Associate Rose Thorogood -- this tiny genetic difference can potentially lead to the evolution of new species.

Two Monarcha castaneiventris sub-species have the same body shape, but different colored bellies and distinct songs. Birds from these sub-species could mate, but these differences stop them recognizing each other as potential sexual partners. This is evidence of incipient speciation: the beginning of the evolution of new species. Other flycatchers in the Solomon Islands also vary their plumage colour, but the is not always as clear as this single mutation.

Dr Kilner highlighted this intriguing paper because it shows how a single gene can cause colour change in birds, affecting the selection of potential sexual partners. This leads to reproductive isolation and eventually speciation, but, she says, "in ways that are more complex than previously appreciated".

More information: The scientific article is available at in the , Am Nat 2009. Vol. 174, pp. 244-254.

Source: Faculty of 1000: Biology and Medicine

Explore further: University biologist publishes book on bird speciation

Related Stories

Human vision inadequate for research on bird vision

May 12, 2008

The most attractive male birds attract more females and as a result are most successful in terms of reproduction. This is the starting point of many studies looking for factors that influence sexual selection in birds. However, ...

Recommended for you

Study suggests fish can experience 'emotional fever'

November 25, 2015

(—A small team of researchers from the U.K. and Spain has found via lab study that at least one type of fish is capable of experiencing 'emotional fever,' which suggests it may qualify as a sentient being. In their ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.