Thursday, June 26, 2014

Appearance of flamingos reloaded

A few years ago we mused on the color appearance of flamingos:

Now Daniel B. Thomas, Kevin J. McGraw, Michael W. Butler, Matthew T. Carrano, Odile Madden and Helen F. James have studied the issue in general for plumed animals and more importantly, over time.

They visually surveyed modern birds for carotenoid-consistent plumage colors. They then used high-performance liquid chromatography and Raman spectroscopy to chemically assess the family-level distribution of plumage carotenoids, confirming their presence in 95 of 236 extant bird families. Using their data for all modern birds, they modeled the evolutionary history of carotenoid-consistent plumage colors on recent supertrees. Results support multiple independent origins of carotenoid plumage pigmentation in 13 orders, including six orders without previous reports of plumage carotenoids. Based on time calibrations from the supertree, the number of avian families displaying plumage carotenoids increased throughout the Cenozoic, and most plumage carotenoid originations occurred after the Miocene Epoch (23 Myr). The earliest origination of plumage carotenoids was reconstructed within Passeriformes, during the Palaeocene Epoch (66–56 Myr), and not at the base of crown-lineage birds.

Link to the paper: Ancient origins and multiple appearances of carotenoid-pigmented feathers in birds