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Condition-dependence of pheomelanin-based coloration in nuthatches Sitta europaea suggests a detoxifying function: implications for the evolution of juvenile plumage patterns

Adult-like juvenile plumage patterns often signal genotypic quality to parents. During adulthood, the same patterns often signal quality to mates. This has led to assume that adult-like juvenile plumage is a developmental consequence of sexual selection operating in adults. Many of these patterns are produced by the pigment pheomelanin, whose synthesis may help remove toxic excess cysteine. Excess cysteine is likely to arise under conditions of relatively low stress, such as those experienced by nestling birds. Thus, adult-like plumage may be advantageous for juveniles if produced by pheomelanin. In the Eurasian nuthatch Sitta europaea, juveniles are sexually dichromatic and identical to adults. Nestling nuthatches in poorer condition develop more intense pheomelanin-based feathers, indicating greater pigment production. The same is not observed in adults. This is contrary to a function related to signaling quality and instead suggests that, at least in the Eurasian nuthatch, adult-like juvenile plumage has evolved because of the detoxifying function of pheomelanin-based pigmentation. Given the prevalence of colors typically conferred by pheomelanin in juvenile plumage patterns, the detoxifying capacity of pheomelanin under low stress levels should be considered as an explanation for the evolution of both adult-like and distinctively juvenile plumage patterns. informacion[at]ebd.csic.es: Galván (2017) Condition-dependence of pheomelanin-based coloration in nuthatches Sitta europaea suggests a detoxifying function: implications for the evolution of juvenile plumage patterns. Sci Rep doi:10.1038/s41598-017-09771-4


https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-09771-4
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